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Fanart of Jerin by Hbruton. The actual cover of the novel shows Jerin with short-ish hair.
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A Brother's Price is an Low Fantasy novel by Wen Spencer.

Jerin Whistler is a simple subject of Queensland where more than ninety percent of the population is female. Understandably in such a society men are a rare and valuable commodity to be bought, bargained and bartered for by families that want him to marry all the women note  in that family.

Then his young sister, out of 27 such siblings, drives off a group of attackers targeting a lone rider. His family has kept up the soldier skills that made them landed gentry. They retrieve the woman only to find themselves caught up in a plot that involves their family history, treason and the fate of the entire nation - which could all hinge on his brother's price.

This book is partly speculative fiction, partly something of a Romance Novel, in which gender roles are largely reversed. As a large portion of the plot is dedicated to who marries whom, it is somewhat similar to Jane Austen's works, while the setting is more like The Wild West, only with a monarchy and Girls with Guns.

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An excerpt is found here.


The novel provides examples of:

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  • Abdicate the Throne: The queens of Queensland, aging, transferring more and more responsibility to their surviving daughters. They won't abdicate the throne until the princesses have married and produced at least one child, but are expected to do so when that happens.
  • Abduction Is Love: In this world men are very rare and valuable. Years ago the Whistler women abducted the fifteen-year-old prince Alannon. He was not happy about this, but because that entire branch of his family was soon executed for treason for their part in the War of the False Eldest, he decided to be philosophical about it. His grandchildren describe their grandmothers as being run ragged trying to make him happy, from building a bathhouse despite not knowing what they were doing to teaching their sons to be Spirited Young Gentlemen rather than Proper Gentlemen. The practice of "husband raids" has been made socially unacceptable since that time; there are laws against it, and every member of a family which contains men is aware of the possibility and willing to fight furiously to prevent it. However, these laws were enacted not out of empathy for the men who would be kidnapped, but for the sake of cohesion within the country. It's hard to trust your neighbors if they kidnapped your brother before you could sell him.
  • Aborted Declaration of Love: When he's saying goodbye to Princess Ren after coming to Mayfair, Jerin is at a loss for what to say. His sisters are close enough to possibly overhear and he doesn't want them knowing what he and she almost did lest he be considered ruined, plus she's so far above his station that they couldn't possibly marry, but he has to say something.
    Certainly not "Don't go" or "I think I love you" or even "Don't leave me here to marry the Brindles." With his sisters near at hand, even "I'll miss you" was dangerous. "Come back and visit" was impossible; he'd be married and gone within a few months.
    Finally, he found something acceptable. "Keep yourself safe."
  • Absurdly Youthful Mother: Justified, if you change the definition of "mother". All sisters of a child's birth mother who are still part of the same family groupnote  are her mothers. This makes possible a situation in which someone's mother is the same age as her, or possibly even younger.
  • Abuse Mistake:
    • Keifer Porter abused his wives, psychologically as well as physically, and managed to convince the eldest wives, who could have divorced him, that it was all in good fun (or, in one case, that the thirteen-year-old he tortured and raped provoked him).
    • Possibly, Balin Brindle is a victim of this. He is rumored to have sex with his mothers (actually aunts, who fill the social role of mothers), which is seen as damage to his reputation, but no one does anything about it, like investigate whether he is forced to do it.
  • Accomplice by Inaction: The princesses' late father is mentioned to have been an Extreme Doormat, who stood by and watched while his son-in-law emotionally abused the younger princesses, and one time even tortured and raped one of them in the room next door. Though it is not clear whether the latter is just an exaggerated accusation- he might not have been there at the time. There is also Eldest, the eldest princess, who could have divorced their husband. She was told about his crime afterward, but did nothing, because the (very beautiful) husband had her wrapped around his little finger.
  • Action Duo: Jerin and Cira become this. While she's good at fighting, Jerin is very talented at sleight of hand and lockpicking. While he was just kidnapped, and needs to escape, she got herself into the action intentionally.
  • Action Mom: Kij Porter, a mother, a badass and a captain of her own ship. And the Big Bad.
  • Action Survivor: Jerin is thrown into an adventure he had no intention of being part of, and survives, using skills that up to then had just been hobbies, to outwit the villains. More precisely, he is kidnapped, and has to escape, for which his lock-picking skills (yes, his family does that as a hobby, and to honor family tradition) come in handy.
  • Actually, I Am Him: In the denouement, when Jerin returns to his fianceés after getting kidnapped, he tearfully confesses that he may have slept (he doesn't remember the night clearly) with his rescuer, Cira, and is now Defiled Forever, so he can't marry them. Whereupon his bride Halley, whom he has not met yet, turns around to show her face: She is Cira, and remembers well that he resisted her attempts to seduce him.
  • Adoption Is Not an Option: Adoption is forbidden by the local religion on the grounds that if the women in a family can simply give away unwanted girl children, they'll just get pregnant over and over again in the hopes of producing a boy. This is shown to have negative results when a family that can't afford to buy a husband then has no children and no one to pass their property on to after they die. Averted at the end when the Whistlers secretly adopt Eldie Porter, to prevent her being executed for the crimes of her mother.
  • Aerith and Bob: Has this bad, on top of every eldest sister automatically being called Eldest, real and "made up" names are freely mixed.
    • The Whistler children for example - there are a total of twenty-eight girls/women and four boys - given in order of mention: Jerin, Corelle, Eldest, Pansy, Violet, Kai, Doric, Leia, Blush, Summer, Eva, Kira, Heria, Liam, Emma, Celain, Kettie, Birdie, and Bunny. Not all are named in the book. This effect may be due to the fact that the children were born to (and presumably named by) various mothers within the family.
    • Here are the names of the princesses given in birth order: Rennsellaer, Halley, Odelia, Trini, Lylia, Zelie, Quin, Selina, Nora, and Mira.
    • Years ago, there was a prince Alannon in the royal family, but there was also his tragic contemporary, an infertile prince consort called... Michael.
  • Affectionate Pickpocket: Jerin pretends to stumble against a woman and allows her to grope him in order to steal back his own gun, which she took away from him earlier. He repeats this with a different captor to get back his confiscated lockpicks.
  • After-Action Patch-Up: Captain Tern is injured and needs to be tended to by various Whistlers. Twice. For a Hypercompetent Sidekick, she gets hurt a lot.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Jerin gets abducted by women who wish to marry him to take control of the throne. Cira is seized when she tries to help him, and the Porters would be quite happy to kill her. So Jerin tells them that if she dies, they will have to rape him to get with child, he'll have to be always tied up to keep him from escaping, he will not raise their children, he will tell everyone, ever, always, what they did. If she lives, he'll be loyal, please them in bed, cook for them, tend their kids, be a good husband. He's lying, hoping to wait for them to let their guard down so he and Cira can escape.
  • The Alcoholic: The Wakecliff family had some very bad and rather suspicious times. A family of fifty-eight all died within one season. Eldest Wakecliff, the head of the family, took to drinking heavily and later died of alcohol poisoning after going on a binge when she heard about six of her kin dying in a carriage accident.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: Part of the book's broad inversion of most gender roles. The two most prominent young men in the book, Jerin and Cullen, both adore horses, Cullen more so than Jerin. Cullen's sisters don't let him near them because he had some "great-great-grandfart that got kicked in the head and died". His cousin sometimes takes him to the stables to pet them over a low wall, but won't let him get closer. He's deeply envious of Jerin, whose family raises horses and lets him ride the older, gentler mares.
  • All Men Are Perverts: Jerin Whistler can resist no pretty woman. Every attempt at seducing him is at least halfway successful. As his eldest sister points out, though, this is not entirely his fault — he was raise never to say no to any woman, as the polygynous culture he lives in would fall apart if one of the rare men insisted on being monogamous or even celibate.
  • All Women Are Lustful: When he's out in public, Jerin is eyed ceaselessly with jealousy or speculation, even with his heavily armed sisters there to protect him. When he puts his veil up for a bit, he's chastised for tempting people; later he's dissuaded from going out alone because he is not safe. In the span of the novel, he is kissed several times without his verbal consent by women, and such behavior seems to be expected of them, much like how some people in our day and age say control of their sexual urges cannot be expected of men faced with an attractive woman.
    • As the setting is a world with few men, since they strongly tend to miscarry or be stillborn, men are kept carefully sheltered and secluded, because otherwise women abduct them in "husband raids". One such man, the very beautiful and almost-of-marrying-age Jerin, is noted to have had erotic dreams, and after some Questionable Consent is happy to be seduced by a visiting princess. Later in the book he goes out in public, surrounded by protective sisters, and a note is made that women stare at him with either envy—if only I had a man like that!—or open speculation, wondering if they could get away with stealing him. He actively fears being abducted and raped. Virginity is highly valued in unmarried men, since this world averts STD Immunity. It's an interesting use of this trope, because on the one hand part of this "lust" is greed; there's economic value in men and particularly virgins. On the other hand, lust is certainly part of it. Jerin was taught the "art" of pleasing a woman with his hands and mouth, the better to keep several wives happy; another male character employed the Lysistrata Gambit to great effect.
  • Averted in A Brother's Price: Women talk openly about sex, and many women are seen chasing after men they desire. Both sexes are expected to remain chaste until marriage, because of STD risk, but it's clear that most people like sex very much. (And others are just not interested in it.)
  • Aloof Big Brother: Gender Fliped, this is considered a cultural trait downright encouraged in any given Eldest.
    • Eldest Whistler is an unquestionable Cool Big Sis. She's the leader of her generation of the family and wears authority like her Badass Longcoat, coolly unemotional in most cases and enforcing discipline on her younger sisters with less concern for how they feel about it than what is best for the family. Rebellious Corelle, in particular, is at the brunt of her calm displeasure. She's softer and kinder to her little brother Jerin, wanting him to be happy and becoming absolutely enraged when she believes he's been raped, and she becomes slightly less aloof over the course of the story, while always remaining level-headed and dignified.
  • Altar Diplomacy: The Porters try this in two stages. Legally, they're sisters-in-law to the princesses, whose late husband was brother to the villains and married the princesses to gain that connection for his family. Under their country's inheritance laws, if all the princesses were to die, without any having had a child to inherit the crown, the villains have a claim to the thrones as heirs to their sisters-in-law. When the princesses find a new husband, the villains decide to kidnap and forcibly marry him, since his royal blood would strengthen his wives' claim to the thrones.
  • Altar the Speed: The Whistlers need to get Jerin betrothed as quickly as possible to a family that can afford a high brother's price upfront, so the sisters can pay for the property they've signed a contract on before the agreement expires.
  • Always Save the Girl: Again a gender-reversed example, when Jerin gets abducted, his multiple wives all want to go after the kidnappers. Ren manages to change their minds, pointing out that this is just what the kidnappers want, making this a subversion. She, of course, does go after the kidnappers.
  • A Man Is Always Eager: Played With Jerin does have a healthy libido and his body is very ready to have sex whenever an attractive woman tries to seduce him, but he values his chastity, as he wants to marry well. He is a bit ashamed that he lacks the self-control to fight back when random women kiss him. He mentions that he would not be so eager with women he doesn't consider attractive, though.
  • Amazon Brigade: Implicitly, any army in Queensland, as men would certainly be considered too valuable to waste them in battles, unless one counts military Cribs. Jerin's grandmothers were essentially the special forces version of this trope, soldier-spies during the war of the False Eldest.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Many women are well able to appreciate the beauty in their own sex. Cira is the only one who is explicitly bi, but as her homosexual relationship is treated as nothing unusual, it can be assumed that bisexual women wouldn't exactly feel the need to "out" themselves.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Near the climax, Kij Porter and her sisters kidnap Jerin Whistler for this purpose. With his Royal Blood, they'd have a shot at the throne if the women already on it were all killed. He promises that if they don't kill his companion, a thorn in their side for ages, then he will marry them willingly, please them in bed, never run away or tell the sordid tale to anyone, and care for their children. He is lying like a rug and escapes at the first opportunity.
  • And That's Terrible: Ren feels the need to deliver a speech of that kind to the soldiers who accompany her. In her opinion, they're insufficiently shocked by finding the dead body of a man who was raped and died of having his tongue cut off. She asks what the rapists intended to tell their children (if they succeeded in conceiving). That their father was raped and had his tongue cut off? Most terrible things that are done are lampshaded to be terrible by at least one protagonist, or the narrative itself, just in case the reader misses it. (Which, with marital rape is a justified concern. Maybe female-on-male rape warrants a "and that's terrible", too.)
  • Animal Theme Naming: We only ever see one member of the Tern family; Captain Raven Tern, but it's mentioned that she has or had a sister named Hawk. Sisters of this family seem to function as Hypercompetent Sidekicks to princesses they are assigned to, helping them as they learn to govern.
  • Anxiety Dreams: Princess Rennsellaer has been having Past Experience Nightmares about the theater explosion that killed her husband and older sisters. When she falls in love with Jerin, she starts dreaming that he's there too.
  • Apron Matron: By tradition, the first daughter to be born to a group of sisters is given the title/name Eldest. When she and her sisters marry and have daughters of their own, she becomes known as Mother Eldest, and she's the head of the family. The family's husband, if they're lucky enough to have one, takes on the softer and more nurturing aspects of childrearing, helped somewhat by Eldest's younger siblings. Eldest's role is more disciplinary, but in the case of the Whistlers at least, not without affection.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Averted, completely. When Jerin has to shoot someone, he is shocked rather than proud. Other characters with more military upbringing aren't as squeamish, but view killing as a necessity rather as something fun.
  • Arranged Marriage: Mothers and/or sisters get to choose who a man will marry, families differ on which gets the deciding vote. Jerin claims that one of his uncles was allowed to "choose his wives" probably meaning he was given his choice off of a shortlist of acceptable offers.
  • Attack on One Is an Attack on All: The Whistler response to a threat to their sisters-in-law, the princesses. As Eldest says, "We Whistlers have an unbreakable rule — you mess with one of us, you mess with us all!" This is said while at least a dozen rifles, in the hands of experts, are being aimed at the offenders.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Keifer was this for the princesses — he charmed the older ones with his beauty, but was a nagging, temper-tantrum-throwing man which the younger less smitten princesses could fully see. He made all of his wives unhappy to varying degrees, frankly, with the theater explosion the survivors all became (relatively) happy widows.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Several. When Corelle, who is a bit of a bully, goes out to face a potentially dangerous group of strangers, Jerin realizes that he does love his sister after all. Also, heartwarmingly adorable with Trini when she takes Jerin's hand and acknowledges their engagement, despite having had "better things to do" than spend time with him beforehand.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: The Queens are largely retired by now, leaving running the country to the older Princesses. Once the older Princesses have had their first daughter they will outright retire and pass the titles on to their daughters.
  • Babies Ever After: A triple whammy — Mother Eldest Whistler, Eldest Whistler and Princess Halley have either given birth or are expecting by at the end of the book.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Justified as men are rare and adoption is a cultural and religious taboo, so the biggest problem most women, and therefore families, face is childlessness. While death in childbirth is mentioned, it is clear that unwanted pregnancies are unheard of (women who just want to have sex have no taboo against choosing other women), and many of the problems that new parents face in the Western world are just not present.
  • Baby Factory: The men in the cribs are the male variant since their purpose is to "service" women while they themselves are drugged.
  • Battle Harem: Mess with Jerin, and you will have five furious warrior princesses at your throat note , not to mention fifty or sixty mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins all trained as fighters and thieves.
  • Be a Whore to Get Your Man: Or, "Be Scantily-Clad to Get Your Women", A magazine of "men's fashions" includes codpieces to let prospective wives have a better view of what they're buying. Jerin is scandalized, more so when he has to go to court and actually wear one.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Keifer, who is described as having been very beautiful, but also stupid and cruel, is a straight example. Jerin, also noted for his beauty, subverts this by being both intelligent and very kind-natured.
  • Beneath Suspicion: The princesses never suspected their sisters-in-law, the Porters to be the ones who betrayed them because of the losses to their own family in the explosion that killed the elder princesses.
  • Big Brother Bully:
    • Corelle comes across as this in the first chapter.
    • There are indications that Princess Eldest was enforcing orders to her siblings with a riding crop. She also half-convinced Trini that it was her own fault that Keifer hurt her.
    • Borderline with Eldest Whistler. None of her siblings seem to find it at all surprising when she slaps Corelle hard during an argument over Corelle's interest in Balin Brindle.
  • Big Sister Instinct: The women of Queensland care very much for their brothers, sons, and other menfolk. Basically, women are expected by other women to behave like cornered wolverines if they have "men to protect."
  • Big Sister Mentor: How elder sisters are expected to teach younger sisters, and for the most part they do. The sister-bond seems to be very strong, even when you don't like each other, you love each other.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The princesses' late husband is called "Keifer". "Keifen" is German, meaning "to nag". The late husband in question was indeed known for whining, complaining, and otherwise manipulating his wives into doing what he wanted to do.
  • Bleed 'Em and Weep: Jerin is horrified when Cira clocks someone with a stone paperweight. Not long after, he shoots a Porter woman to save Cira and holds absolutely still for several minutes, overcome with reaction. Of course, five or ten minutes later he is using the woman he killed as a dead weight to keep the whistle going to bleed steam out of the boilers. Jerin's a Whistler — necessity trumps emotion every time.
  • Blood from the Mouth: A dead body is found with dried blood filling the mouth; the investigators conclude that the tongue was cut out and the victim likely died of it.
  • Breeding Slave: Men living in the cribs are this. They are drugged and raped to impregnate women too poor to secure a husband, and often catch and spread one or two (often deadly) STDs along the way. They are usually boys from families found guilty of treason, sold as compensation, since being male means you are property.
  • Bright Castle: The castle in the capital of Mayfair has lots of windows, which would be expensive but doable in a culture with technology roughly equivalent to the early 1800s, basically a groundscraper. It is also very nice and bright inside and offers a spectacular view of the city it overlooks from the cliff.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Eldie Porter's parents were culturally brother and sister, genetically full-blooded cousins. note 
  • Bumbling Dad: Averted — the fact that the Whistlers are such a well-organized family is attributed to Jerin's grandfather Alannon, as the grandmothers were just a ragtag bunch of successful soldier-spies. Jerin's father seems to have done a good job, too, and Jerin is a very competent replacement dad for his younger siblings. His love interest points out that he's good at parenting in an attempt to convince her relatives that he'd be a good match.
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: While searching for the missing cannons the combined Whistler-Queen's Justice group finds Egan Wainwright, a man who was buried on the lone prairie, together with his kidnappers, who were apparently killed by their employers. The man's corpse is dug up and sent to be buried with his family; the bandits are just left where they are.
  • But I Would Really Enjoy It: When Ren seduces Jerin, he "takes the edge off" the lust on both their parts by resorting to the techniques his father taught him for pleasing a woman, which is never described, but appears to involve oral sex. They could go from there to outright penis-in-vagina intercourse, but with great difficulty he refrains so he can remain a Technical Virgin. Also, he refuses Cira until she tells him she's another of the princesses, so it's okay, since she's one of his wives.
  • By the Hair: When women sneak into the royal men's quarters and abduct Jerin in they seize him by his long-braided hair, and he screams.
    C-D 
  • Career Versus Man: Subverted : Jerin meets his former schoolteacher Miss Skinner, who quit her job to get married. However, she was working as a teacher in the first place to make money so that her sisters and she could afford a husband. Now that they have enough money, they'll marry, and she returns to her home to get her share of the husband's... company. Not so much "career versus man" as "career in order to get a man".
    • She comes from an artist family but became a teacher due to her lack of talent and interest in seeing the world.
  • Catch the Conscience: Years ago the royal family visited the Durham Theater, to see a performance about the civil war in which their own family was involved and victorious. It seems to be a relatively neutral performance, with no attempts to veil the horrors of war. This trope works so well that Ren even starts crying, and is sent outside because her tears annoy Keifer, where she argues with Halley about the morality of killing the children.The theatre then explodes, and the two of them are the only survivors.
  • Chastity Dagger: While uncommon, as evidenced by the guards' reaction to finding he carries one, Jerin does have just such a knife on his person in case of emergencies. His grandmothers were soldiers after all.
  • Chained to a Bed: Jerin's abduction is Played for Drama. The first time, he's assured that he won't be touched, and the second time after he is recaptured, he's been delivered to the women who arranged for his kidnapping, one of whom rapes his mouth. Cira, who was Bound and Gagged and chained to the foot of the bed to watch, is furious.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A whole set of them, set up far, far in advance and referenced a few times to keep the reader's memory fresh. Jerin was taught to read and write, and how to run, climb, ride, shoot, and defend himself, as well as how to pick locks, use sleight of hand, and know when to lie. He's still a Non-Action Guy, but spirited about it.
  • Child by Rape:
    • The younger sisters of Balin Brindle are rumored to be actually fathered by him, on his own mothers, as his father is old and frail. The protagonists seem to think this consensual, but there is some Fridge Horror involved if you don't believe that All Men Are Perverts.
    • Averted with Trini, who was raped by her own husband, but didn't get pregnant. The rapist doesn't seem to have fathered any other children, either, except for an incestuous child with his sister/biological cousin. Having children is also the main reason why women commit rape in this universe — men are so rare that the only three options to conceive a child are a husband (to be shared by all sisters in a family), a male prostitute, or rape. The above-mentioned male rapist, on the other hand, was just a sadist, as he had more than ten wives who were smitten with him.
  • Child Hater: Discussed — it's seen as a marriage-sinking trait as men who don't like children are essentially useless as a House Husband as they are expected to take on many of the nurturing aspects of childcare. Some of the Whistlers dislike Balin Brindle for wincing and doing nothing every time his little sisters/possible incestuous children start to cry in public. The fact that Keifer never could stand being around the little princesses, or even fake any degree of liking for them, is yet another mark in a very long list against him. It doesn't seem to matter to most how women feel about children, as demonstrated by Captain Raven Tern, whose discomfort around children is Played for Laughs and generally accepted, since her sisters will presumably handle carrying on their family line.
  • Child Marriage Veto: Jerin vetoes a marriage to the Brindle sisters in advance. Eldest happily agrees, as she doesn't like Balin Brindle, who would be her husband if they swapped him for Jerin. Years ago Trini attempted to veto the marriage to Keifer but her veto was not heeded, which resulted in a horrible marriage. In the present Trini is widowed and, finally, allowed to veto.
  • Children Are a Waste: PlayedWith Only one male baby is successfully born for every nine girls; they tend to spontaneously miscarry, abort, or die as small children. Boys, therefore, are economically valuable. A family — several sisters married to one man — usually tries to have one male child to swap for a boy who will marry their daughters, and others to sell for a "brother's price". With those ratios it's rare for a family to have multiple sons, but some like the Brindles keep trying, often becoming rather careless with their newborn daughters. Society views this as tremendously indulgent, and a family constantly producing children is seen as wasting its time and energy.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Cullen Moorland, the only non-Whistler male to have a speaking role in the book, and his cousin the princess Lylia, who smuggles him lewd tintypes and educates him on what she knows. They have a pact that whoever has sex first tells the other everything. Cullen is seen as harmless and kind of adorable; Jerin finds Lylia slightly threatening in an exciting way.
  • Chosen Conception Partner: Has male prostitutes whose sole job is to father children in a "crib", which comes in several versions: private, open to everybody and with a reputation for being plague houses, and military, based around the Order of the Sword. So being this is no great compliment to a man; only comparatively rich women or those with a brother to swap can afford to fulfil a Darwinist Desire and purchase a single husband for their family.
  • Civil War: The War of the False Eldest, which took place several generations ago, is important for many reasons:
    • It was during this war that the Whistlers went from a group of thieves and smugglers to a family of the landed gentry, and stole themselves a secretly royal husband.
    • It establishes the ability of a big enough family to "split"—but also explains why the royal family in particular can't take this option anymore, and why a family thinking about splitting would be wise to have a second line of work for the new branch to take on.
    • The aftermath of the war set a major precedent for the extermination of rebel houses down to the very last child, nobility or not.
    • An opera about this conflict also becomes an important part of the backstory in and of itself.
  • Come with Me If You Want to Live: Arriving in Mayfair, Jerin sees a scarred woman with What Beautiful Eyes! who kisses him before vanishing into the crowd. Later he is kidnapped, and the scarred woman is among the kidnappers, assuring him that she'll help, introducing herself as Cira. When he gets free and escapes on horseback, Cira catches up and pulls him onto her horse, much to his dismay. But Cira does help, telling him he'll get back to his wives with his honor intact. He does, since his rescuer turns out to be Princess Halley whom he hadn't met yet.
  • Comfort Food: When they find out he's leaving to get married, Jerin's toddler sisters are inconsolable, so he comforts them by suggesting they bake a pound cake and make maple ice cream.
  • Comforting the Widow: Jerin feels bad about his relief when he is told that Ren, whom he loves, is a widow — he doesn't want to be the one doing this trope, rather he thinks he should feel sorry for her loss. He ends up comforting all the widows... though they need comfort not because they're sad their husband died — they aren't — but because their husband caused a lot of harm to the family.
  • Comic Sutra: Jerin and Cullen look at some erotic tintype pictures that are not described. At one point, Cullen asks "Why would anyone want to put his mouth there?". Jerin is trained in the "Paths of Pleasure" and knows a lot more about such things than Cullen, having gotten a very detailed talk from his father and grandfather.
    • It does lead to a moment when one of the child princesses mentions Jerin did a magic trick, and an older sister is momentarily worried about which specific "magic" he demonstrated...
  • Common Hollywood Sex Traits: Averted in A Brother's Price, where Jerin's wives all clean him up before leaving his bedroom, observing proper hygiene each time. Sororal Polygyny only works if every sis leaves him as she found him, after all.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: When they find the body of Egan Wainwright, who was raped, and then killed by having his tongue cut off, Ren is put off by the lack of reaction from the accompanying soldiers. It's not unreasonable to assume that they have seen worse, it comes with the job, and there seems to have been a bandit problem for a long time. And her lieutenant points out that unlike Ren, who knew and loved her father, most soldiers are conceived from drugged prisoners in military brothels in the Order of the Sword.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Combined with Trend Aesop as the nobility tends towards this, with expensive outfits that are only intended to be worn once, with some buying whole wardrobes for just one season. Then there's talk of eating off plates of gold and having fresh fruit even in winter.
  • Cool Big Sis: Eldest Moorland is willing to accept a "Brother's Price" less than half of what her sibling Cullen is worth simply because his happiness means more to her than the money.
  • Coordinated Clothes: Dressing families in the same color or variations thereof is the latest fashion trend, as Jerin, Eldest, Summer and Corelle are told by the group of the provided Tailor family whose job it is to outfit them for the upcoming season.
    • As seen from the royal family dinner they attend a few hours later, they're good at their job, though they had good canvas to paint on.
  • Cornered Rattlesnake: Captain Tern is genre-savvy enough to avert this. When she stands in front of the Whistler farm, and the question is presented to her why she doesn't just force them to let her in, she points out that the adults are away on business, and the house is full of toddlers and girls in their early teens, who are armed to the teeth.
  • Costume Porn: The everyday clothes are given no description other than color and possibly cut, but when the main cast stays at the palace and are given new clothes so that they don't look out of place, these new clothes are described in detail.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Jerin was burning a letter when people came through a secret passage and abducted him. He struggled for long enough to be able to write one three-letter word in soot before they hauled him away, the one he thought responsible, Kij. Since literacy isn't a universal skill his abductors miss it and don't take time to wipe it off before fleeing the bodyguards that were trying to break through his locked door.
  • Covered with Scars: Cira only has one on her face, but they're also all over her back.
  • Covers Always Lie: The common English cover tries to sell the novel as a Romance Novel, with a relatively short-haired man carrying an unconscious woman to safety. Jerin does pick up Odelia once, with his sister there to guard him, and it is in many ways a romance novel, but this cover is very misleading as to the roles of those two characters. It also shows him as very visibly armed, which the long-haired Jerin never visibly is.
  • Crapsack World: The main characters are shielded from the worst of it, but oh boy...
    • First, if you're a man, you're property, ostensibly a highly valuable and safeguarded member of society but in practice having no more social or legal rights than a particularly expensive piece of furniture. The best you can ever hope for is that you'll get sold to wives who will treat you well, and if you're unlucky you might get sold to a crib where you'll spend the rest of your life drugged to incoherence and studded out on a daily basis, probably catching a disease somewhere along the way.
    • And if you're a woman who didn't have the fortune of being born into the nobility, things can still be very far from awesome, given the ubiquitousness of poverty and high levels of social stratification, entire families being held accountable for the actions of a single member, and if you're orphaned, Gods help you, because no one else will, seeing as how adoption is outlawed by their religionnote .
    • The same religion holds that the ruling dynasty is descended from the gods, by the way. The place appears to be an absolute monarchy (the princesses all seem decent enough, but still...), has a thriving thieves' guild, and is so badly run that an anonymous organization of masked women known only as "The Hats" can drum up enough support among the River Trash for overthrowing the government to be considered a viable option. Those same River Trash are the direct result of both the "no adoption" and "entire families condemned for a single member's actions" policies above: Women and girls who, for some reason or another, have been exiled from their families or blacklisted from legitimate work and must eke out a living as outlaws on the fringes of civilization, a fate that the protagonist's grandmothers only narrowly escaped by joining the aforementioned thieves' guild after one of their mothers got them disgraced and cashiered from the army for committing treason.
  • Crosscast Role: Has an In-universe all-female opera ensemble performing the Barren Winter about the Civil War, including a sad monologue by a man involved in said war. He is played by a woman who sings in the alto range. Another necessity with the dearth of men available for such roles.
  • Creepy Physical: Jerin has to have his sperm tested before he can get married, which doesn't involve inappropriate touching — but the doctor voices her surprise at Jerin's high sperm count, much to his embarrassment. Later, his bride-to-be checks his naked body for inbred deformities, also a necessary procedure... and of course, she does so with his eldest sister present, which makes it safer, but even more embarrassing.
  • Culture Justifies Anything: While the idea of doing things differently is Discussed when Ren and Jerin walk in the Royal Gardens they come to the conclusion that it is impossible to change such fundamental things about their culture. Likely used to lampshade the Deliberate Values Dissonance. However, it's averted by Whistlers' and the royal princesses' characters, who think that just because men are rare doesn't justify using them for breeding like cattle.
  • Cultured Badass: Royal princesses have to be this, it comes with the job; they have a working understanding of microbiology and Germ Theory for example. The elder princesses died in an explosion of the opera house. The survivors of that explosion still remember what the opera was about and how moving the aria sung at the time before they left was.
  • Cycle of Revenge: The awareness of this trope, and a desire to avert it, is the reason beyond a particularly unsavory aspect in the setting. Families tend to be tightly-knit and very collective. It would be easy for a family caught committing treason to pin it on one sister, who would be executed and leave the others alive and wanting vengeance. So, unless it's believed that this was not a proper family and sisters were not united - as happened to the Whistlers well before the story's start - the whole family is killed. Right down to the babies. Men - and Princess Ren - hate this practice, and it's well-established that Children Are Innocent of their parents' crimes, but it's seen as ruthlessly pragmatic.
    "Face the truth, Ren. She's the incestuous fruit of the man who poisoned the Prince Consort and the woman who blew up half the royal princesses! Do you think any of even her most remote noble relations are going to take her? Do you think we're going to take her? You would ask our youngest to be raised with her? Her father murdered ours. Do you think our babies would be safe around her once she realized that we executed her mothers and grandmothers? [...] Kij and Keifer had no good reason to hate you and me, except for deeds of our grandmothers. Do you really want their child, with better reasons for hating us, anywhere near our children?"
    • The descendants of the surviving Whistlers bear no grudge against the crowns, and in fact, some of them died fighting for the same people who executed their Mother Elder. They adopt Eldie out of the charitable belief that there is redemption for the innocent.
  • Daddy's Girl: Men are so rare in this setting that most girls don't even have a father who lives with the family. As a result, those women who do have a father consider themselves very lucky. Ren is especially affected by the sight of a dead man because he reminds her of her father.
  • Damsel in Distress: The first major action Jerin takes is to go out, pick the injured princess Odelia up out of a river, and carry her home. His sister Heria found her but wasn't big or old enough to carry her so far herself, and sending out the other middle sisters to get her would leave the boys and the littlest girls mostly unprotected, so Jerin went with Heria to protect him. This is the incident portrayed on the misleading cover.
  • Dance of Romance: Deconstructed Kij dances with Jerin, compliments him, and starts a conversation about his being schooled in "the paths of pleasure". He's only embarrassed, and happy when his sisters come to his rescue. He has a much better time with Ren.
  • Dances and Balls: Mayfair's summer season is stuffed with these. We only see the opening ball given by the Queens but presumably, the activity goes on in the background as the rest of the plot proceeds
  • Dangerous 16th Birthday: Sixteen is the age of marriage, when men leave their families to be joined to new ones. The upcoming occasion is cause for great apprehension for Jerin.
    • While women can marry at practically any age (including before they are even born—they are considered married to their sisters' husband if they already have one) sixteen is when they come of age as well, and start to be serviced by their husband.
  • Darwinist Desire: Queensland noble society as such caters to Darwinist desires, though the protagonists don't seem to care. Probably due to inbreeding and genetic mutation being a common problem (the fact that very few males are born hints to this) a prospective husband is checked for deformities and sperm count before the wedding takes place.
  • Death by Childbirth: A real fear, though "normal" miscarriages and stillbirths are more common. One of the Wakefield sisters died giving birth to a stillborn son. Even the Queens have died due to this.
  • Death by Sex: With STD Immunity massively Subverted, sex with non-virgins is not well thought of. Men are rare enough that those who are not made into husbands are crib captives, made to service women for ten crowns a night in the hopes of impregnating them. Various different cribs have different reputations, some thought to be clean, others not; to someone of noble status, visiting even a 'clean' one is social suicide. There are stories about a married woman "getting an itch to try a crib", catching something other than a child there, and spreading it to her husband, who spread it to his other wives and any children they conceived, to the point where the entire family was killed.
  • Deconstruction: Of traditional gender roles, and the idea that men cannot be victimized by women, or by social systems.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: In a meta-example Jerin pulls this on the younger princesses he's playing toy soldiers with. One of the older ones is very angry, but he manages to convince her that it is not cheating if you could do it with a real army.
  • Defiant Captive: Jerin doesn't make things easy for his captures, using various strategies, trying to manipulate his kidnappers into thinking he's helpless and childlike is one of them. Cira, captured along with him is this, too, but is also a Badass in Distress.
  • Defiled Forever: For men and women both, sex outside of marriage is seen as very sketchy due to the fear of venereal disease. In this world, such diseases can be tested for (we are shown that such technology is in its infancy), but cures aren't mentioned, and the stigma is high. Jerin is terrified of this fate, knowing that his family's economic future rides on the "brother's price" they'll get from him; if he is raped, then in order to pay off their debts, they'll have to sell him to a crib, where he'll be numbered and drugged and forced to "service" women night after night.
  • Delicious Distraction: Jerin does this to make the news that he's leaving the family land easier for his inconsolable younger sisters.
  • Deliver Us from Evil: For many women, the desire to get pregnant is actually their motivation to turn to a life of crime in the first place, This trope is arguably played straight historically with the Whistlers.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • The men-as-property and polygyny aspects aside, the whole family is usually held accountable for the actions of one member so that a family can't simply commit treason and then sacrifice one person, becoming more willing to repeat the offense as revenge. This means that if treason is committed, the whole family is executed down to the children. Ren is distressed at the thought of killing her little "niece" Eldie Porter, but the Whistlers took the third option and adopted her without telling her what her mothers did.
    • One of the aspects of the setting's sororal polygyny means that your sister falling in love with the man you want to marry is actually a good thing in the setting. If you can afford the brother's price, that is.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Alissa Porter. Apparently, the gender of her lover means less to her than the fact that she's stealing them from Princess Halley.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: The villains are quite successful, having killed half of the royal family, with the intent to become Queens themselves, but then make the mistake of messing with the Whistler family. Instead of asking to marry one of the Whistler cousins, who have just as much royal ancestry (which is the thing they're after), they kidnap the recently engaged Jerin. This ends badly for them.
  • Did Not Die That Way: The princesses' father died some years ago of a suspected poisoning. Which is true. However, he was not poisoned by a stranger, but by Keifer, the princesses' horrible husband. There is also Keifer himself, who was Too Dumb to Live, and died in an explosion that his co-conspirators caused, because he didn't notice his cue for getting out. No one suspected that he was Hoist by His Own Petard
  • Did They or Didn't They?: Eldest Whistler is visibly pregnant at the end of the novel, and it is speculated upon how long she has been, as if the child is born early, this could be proof of the relatives of her new husband not having been very good at chaperoning him. The premarital "dalliance" is mentioned by someone in the novel, though how far it went is left to the reader's imagination.
  • Disguised in Drag: Jerin is disguised as a female prostitute. However, as men are rare in the setting, female prostitutes try to look like men, to appeal to their female customers, most of whom would probably consider themselves heterosexual. This means that he is a man, who disguises himself as a woman, who disguises herself as a man. Due to the gender roles in that setting, the appearance he is ultimately described as having is somewhat Drag Queen like.
  • Disappeared Dad: Jerin and Ren have this in common, both having deceased fathers. Jerin's died of an accident a few months before the start of the book, resulting in Jerin's Promotion to Parent to his younger siblings. Ren thought her father had died of illness, but when Jerin, now betrothed to Ren and her sisters, is moved into the palace's husband quarters, he finds evidence that his predecessor, Keifer, was involved in killing the princesses' father with poison.
  • Dismissed Gender: A lot of the things men of this world are subjected to have been, and still are, applied to women in our world — and they're horrifying to think about. But there are various hints, some of them big, that these things haven't been Gender Flipped merely to make them more acceptable to the readers.
    Eldest: We don't blame you, honey.
    Jerin: I could have fought.
    Eldest: She's a princess. All her life people have obeyed her commands. You're a boy. All your life you have listened to others. It was up to her to stop at any no you have, even if it was whispered.
    • At one point Ren and Jerin have a purely philosophical conversation about how their society would be different if it were Gender Flipped, and Jerin concludes that no matter what the male:female ratio is, a woman's consent is more important than a man's, because pregnancy will always make the consequences of sex riskier for women than for men. Amusingly Ren at first assumes that babies are the only "reward" of marriage. Regular sex doesn't figure.
    • Ren also tells Jerin that even in that situation, a man has the right to say no.
  • Dismissing a Compliment: Jerin indirectly does this to the idea that noblewomen will pay a big "brother's price" because of his beauty. Jerin himself thinks it's just because they're his sisters that they have such a high opinion of him, and is afraid of disappointing their hopes. He needn't have worried, he fetches the sum they thought he would, and they could easily have demanded more.
  • Distressed Dude: Jerin, several times. He's not entirely helpless in these situations, but he'd have been in very bad shape without assistance. On the other hand, his resourcefulness and unusual skills seriously impress Cira. When he's taken captive, his own skills and his initiative are vitally important to his escape.
  • The Ditherer: The War of the False Eldest can be laid at the feet of Titia of the Main royal family, at least according to a play. The Branch family had a fertile husband while the Main's was infertile. This gave the Branch a good claim to inherit Queensland as they had a secured lineage. The problem could have been easily resolved by divorcing the infertile husband (who, at that point, asked for it, as he didn't want to be responsible for war) and marrying one who was fertile, but the woman on whom the decision hinged dithered so much that it came to war. Apparently, she was a habitual ditherer, and couldn't make a decision to save her life or those of her sisters.
  • Divorce Requires Death: Some commit suicide to get out of an unhappy marriage. There is an interesting example with Keifer Porter who dies in an accident. Which was actually an attempt on the lives of his wives, in which he was involved. His death actually was an accident, unless one counts it as Hoist by His Own Petard. Divorce is technically possible, but requires the consent of the women involved. There is a tragic opera, Barren Winter, wherein one aria is the lament of an infertile man who begs to be allowed a divorce so his wives can have children; given it brings a Civil War, you feel for the guy.
  • Does He Have a Brother?: Played With, Ren doesn't quite believe that main protagonist Jerin is really very handsome so Odelia tells her to remember how the Whistler women look, and then imagine those features with a male body and long hair. Ren then has to admit that she would like to pursue such a man. However, it is not clearly said whether the Whistler women are absolutely out of the question, especially since this culture seems to have no taboo about sexual relationships between women.
  • Domestic Abuse: Common, but just because the sex ratio is skewed doesn't mean that men can't be abusive.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: Averted, Captain Tern knows that, if she tries to force entry to the Whistler household, the Whistler girls (the oldest one who is at home at the time is about sixteen) will fight to death, regardless of what she says, as they have brothers to protect. She's not keen on killing little girls, so she decides to wait until the Queen's Justice arrives and sorts it out. She explains this thought process to Princess Rensellaer when asked why she's willing to wait for what could be hours. (Captain Tern would have to kill the girls, as it is her duty to protect the royal family, regardless of how stupid the princesses act. Fortunately, Ren agrees that they should avoid a confrontation).
  • Don't Split Us Up: Played With, Jerin hopes he will be swapped for the brother of another family (and not for the eponymous brother's price in money) so that he can often visit his siblings. His toddler sisters cry when they hear he is going to leave and get married. Princess Ren has a different kind of problem: Splitting the family into two groups of sisters (as has been done in the past) is not an option, as it caused a succession war back then. So, if she wants to marry, she has to get all her sisters to agree on the same husband. Even Trini, who is reluctant to marry again after the abusive late husband, and Halley, who has been missing for months.
  • Doting Grandparent: Jerin mentions that while his mothers sometimes talk down to him, Grandfather Alannon didn't. The grandfather also gave Jerin a very valuable piece of jewelry before his death. Alannon was a prince, and the piece of jewelry plays a role in the plot as proof of Jerin's royal ancestry.
  • Doting Parent: What Jerin's mothers are; he's sure they would marry him to nice girls. However, as his marriage will influence whom his sisters can marry, they leave that choice to their daughters, on whom they dote almost as much.
    • Boys are more likely to get the full attention of a parent as opposed to the girls.
  • Double Entendre: "Whores" are women with an exclusively female clientele. Many of them dress up to look as much like men as they can. This includes an ivory strap-on worn at the groin. What is it called? A bone.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: This is an ideal state of affairs for poorer families in Queensland to swap brothers since it saves themselves the price of a husband and means closer bonds between families; makes cousins more like sisters. When Cullen is married to the older Whistler sisters, he hopes to get their cousins married to his sisters.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Averted but not completely inverted. One of the first thoughts Jerin has in the book is that if he killed the sister who's always needling him, people would shrug it off, though we quickly see that not only would he never actually hurt her, he's constantly aware that her anger, directed towards him, is much more dangerous than his anger at her. However, Keifer's assault on his young wife is taken very seriously by her middle sisters (if not the elder ones) and could have been grounds for divorce.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: This is inverted. Keifer, who was married to the princesses, fought often with his then-13-year-old wife, and at one point stunned her with a blow to the head, tied her to his bed, and abused her. This abuse includes rape, but her sisters describe it as "servicing" her, and the sexual aspect is seen as less awful than his breaking her nose and some of her fingers, blacking her eyes, burning her with a hot iron, and threatening to cut her face. On the other hand, when Eldest Whistler thinks that one of the princesses has raped her brother, she is murderously angry even though he has not been physically harmed.
  • Driven to Suicide: Kareem Wakecliff killed herself upon hearing about four catastrophic events happening to her family in one day: a shipwreck, a fire that claimed the lives of every family member under ten, smoke inhalation and burns killing the adults who'd tried to save them, and a Death by Childbirth.
    • It's also noted that men sometimes kill themselves to escape bad marriages.
  • Due to the Dead: When the heroes find the naked corpse of a man, one of the leaders covers the body with her cloak, and it is arranged for the body to be transported back to the man's home, so that he can be buried with his wives, who were killed in the same attack where he was captured.
  • Dumb Blonde: According to pretty much everyone who knew him Keifer was very, very pretty but also very, very stupid. Cullen averts this trope by being of at least average intelligence, if a bit keet.
  • The Dutiful Son: Jerin in spades; he cooks, he cleans, he takes care of his younger siblings and he worries about making a good marriage that will benefit his family.
  • Dye or Die: Cira, to keep the Significant Green-Eyed Redhead thing from letting anyone know she's royal. Also Eldie Porter, in the end, to help her fit in among the Whistler children.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: As they go over the Inevitable Waterfall Cira cries "Jerin, I love you!" They both survive. Fortunately for them, both Cira turns out to be one of the Princesses and so Jerin's wife—which she thought he knew when she made her declaration.
    E-G 
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Jerin is convinced, with reason, that he and his wives have done this. After all they've gone through (betrayals, tumult, reconciliations, kidnapping, deaths, waterfalls, assignations against his virtue). The final line is.
    Surely, the gods were merciful and loving. Surely they smiled upon this union, and he and his wives would live happily ever after.
  • Easing into the Adventure: Jerin is seen doing chores, and trying to get his sister Corelle to feed the new baby sibling which she thinks is men's work, at the beginning.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Jerin is seen as very beautiful, and...people tend to take liberties. He's very uncomfortable with it and has to all but hide behind his protective sisters.
  • Education Papa: More like Education Grandpa, who insisted that all the kids learn how to read, write, and know proper etiquette including the boys. They even had a teacher come to the farm and give private lessons for the boys.
  • Elder Abuse: Eldest Picker is an old woman who still beats her younger (but equally old) sisters if they don't obey, and complains she can't hit them as hard as before, because they break so easily now. It's played for laughs, and not quite clear how bad she really is; she seems like a Cool Old Lady. (It is normal that the eldest sister is in charge, but this is usually not enforced with violence). In a darker example, there is also the Porters, who murder their mothers when they become senile and scatterbrained.
  • Entitled to Have You: Kij Porter feels entitled to a second dance (and more flirting) with Jerin because she's a noble. When Jerin's sister Corelle comes to fetch him, stating that other women want to dance with him, too, Kij asks her: "Do you know who I am?", and Corelle, in a bored tone, recounts everything worth knowing about the Porter family, as Kij's sister already told her all of it one moment ago. This doesn't deter Kij from making a marriage offer for Jerin after the ball - after all, she's a noble, and the Whistlers are commoners, and they can't do any better than marrying their brother to a noblewoman. Or so she thinks - in the end, Jerin marries the princesses.
  • Erotic Dream: Jerin has some of those after his first sexual experience... it is a good thing that he is the one who has to wash the bedsheets, anyway.
  • Erotic Eating: The day after the Princess Ren seduces Jerin she comes to the kitchen to watch him cook. He gives her a spoon dipped in maple syrup, and she licks it off, deliberately reminding him of last night.
    "It's sweet, but not as sweet as you."
  • Establishing Character Moment: The book opens with Jerin multitasking at House Husband duties, cooking and looking out for his younger siblings, and mostly passively trying to put up with his big sister.
    • That same moment also foreshadows that his sister Corelle is a troublemaker.
    • Captain Tern of the Royal Guard, is established as a sensible person when she waits for Queens Justice (this world's equivalent of police) to arrive instead of using her authority to demand entry into the farm where Jerin lives.
    • In-universe, Lylia attempts to evoke this by setting up events so that the first time Trini meets Jerin, she'll see him playing with their younger sisters and notice how kind and good with children he is. Trini sees through it immediately, but later begrudgingly admits to being impressed by what she saw.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Ren finds Eldest Whistler almost as striking and beautiful as her brother Jerin.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: Cira got her scar(s) from the incident which killed many members of her family. It's her reason for doing what she does, and it is also why she lost her lover. Jerin thinks it looks cool, though.
  • Exact Words: Cira tells a group of women intending to group together to start a new family of "sisters", which she's been invited to join, that she's "done second in line" and that "some" felt she "was usurping my sister's authority", so she left. Details she's leaving out include that she's Halley, currently the second eldest living princess, behind Ren, that she was the natural leader of her age group among her sisters, and that she was the one who felt she was getting in the way of her current Eldest's authority, since most found it more natural to look to the more dominant Halley for leadership over the less confident Ren.
  • Evil All Along:Kij Porter, who Ren considered a close friend and even family member despite her flaws.
  • Evil Matriarch: Given the setting, any organized crime is expected to be managed by an evil matriarch, as families are very close, and usually all members of a family are brought to court for a crime one of them committed. Rank is determined by age, the eldest sister in a family is named Eldest and becomes Mother Elder when she has her first child. The evil matriarch in any given family of criminals is therefore the Mother Elder. Strictly enforced discipline, and the fact that criminal individuals are thrown out of lawful families, more or less guarantees that a family that turns to crime will have an evil matriarch in charge. The villains actually murdered their own mothers (who were in on the conspiracy, so likely evil matriarchs themselves) in order to shut them up, as the family "doesn't age well" and tends to senility. The main villain already has one child, and is the Eldest of the family, so she is well on her way to becoming an evil matriarch herself.
  • Evil Orphan: Discussed and a case of Deliberate Values Dissonance, adoption is seen as "a hidden evil" warned of in scripture. When a family commits treason, if it's not believed to be divided then every member down to the youngest is killed to prevent a Cycle of Revenge or You Killed My Father situation. There is treason in the book, and while Ren does not want to kill her five-year-old 'niece' Eldie, her sister Halley ruthlessly reminds her that none of the child's relatives will take them, and if they take the child, Eldie will eventually know why their family was killed and turn on them.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: Justified Cullen Moorland hid behind a curtain to eavesdrop on a conversation between his sister Eldest, and Eldest Whistler. As Eldest Whistler specifically asked for a private conversation, Cullen has some suspicions about what they're going to talk about. He is correct, Whistler asks Moorland for Cullen's hand in marriage. He is delighted.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage/Polyamory: From most readers' perspectives. The people of Queensland practice polygyny - sororal polygamy - with all the sisters of a family sharing a single husband. This can mean as many as thirty wives, a number that Jerin finds downright intimidating. Families with extra brothers to trade (or enough money to buy another husband outright) can "split" into multiple-family units, so that the sister-wife groups can be smaller and narrower in age. Jerin's family has a comparatively high male birthrate, so they have been able to do this in the past.
  • Extended Disarming: The Whistlers are going to meet the Queen Elder but can't go armed into the palace. Eldest politely informs the majordomo that there are rifles in their luggage, and they disarm. Summer carries one six-shooter and three knives. Corelle carries no knives but two six-shooters and a derringer. Eldest has as many knives as Summer, as many guns as Corelle, and also carries two pairs of brass knuckles and a wire garrote. The majordomo is unmoved until Jerin surrenders his single derringer and knife, at which point she's quite startled.
  • Family Business: Whole families can be focused on a profession, examples include service, painters, tailors, farmers and of course governance for the royalty. Individual members can go off and do things, of course.
  • Family Eye Resemblance: All ten of the princesses described have green eyes. Likewise, the Whistler family tends to have blue eyes.
  • Family Honor: Enforced All family members are punished by the law if one steps out of line. One can get out of this by claiming that the family is estranged and was not working together, but it is automatically assumed that they did work together. After Heria and Jerin Whistler save the life of a princess, Queen Elder compliments Eldest Whistler (who wasn't even there at the time) for acting in accordance with the law, even though this endangered Jerin, a valuable boy. However, they also value their honor in the more abstract sense; Jerin's sister Corelle, when she notices that he's being courted by a noblewoman who thinks the Whistler family is beneath her, remarks that they will not be looked down on by their future sisters-in-law, and rescues Jerin from the unpleasant company.
  • Family of Choice: Eldest Whistler states that she believes her family began when "a group of women banded together and called themselves sisters."
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: The gossip around the Whistler home is that the younger Brindle sisters were actually not fathered by their alleged father, but by Balin Brindle, the son of the family. There's a twelve-year gap in births, and the father is described as very frail and feeble. And then there is Kij Porter's daughter Eldie, whose father, too, is someone other than is officially claimed.
  • Family Theme Naming: Most families seen tend towards giving their kids completely unrelated names, but the two noted sisters of the Tern family are Raven and Hawk.
  • Fancy Dinner: A fancy, only-family dinner is used as a test for whether the Whistler family can be presented as guests of the royal family without embarrassment, or whether they need to be taught manners first. They easily pass, as their grandfather, Prince Alannon, had their grandmothers wrapped around his little finger, and insisted on good table manners and etiquette.
  • Fan Disservice: The search party finds the naked corpse of Egan Wainwright, a man who had been renowned for his good looks in life. The corpse is described in very unappealing terms, and the protagonists are full of horror and pity.
  • Fantastic Drug: So-called "crib drugs" are used to keep men able and willing to have sex. One of those drugs is, apparently, called "Everlast". It is implied that making men last longer is not the only effect, though—they seem to also act as an aphrodisiac.
  • Fantastic Honorifics & Fantastic Naming Convention: The eldest daughter of a family is always named "Eldest". (If she dies as an adult, the next in line is not renamed, but keeps her (normal) name - it can be a title for select daughters when there is a large enough age gap groups of children in the new generation) This is also the honorific used for her, until she has her first child. Then she's called "Mother Elder [Lastname]", e.g. the eldest of the reigning Queens is "Queen Mother Elder". Should the Eldest of a family dies another sister can be called Eldest without changing their name.
  • Fantasy Americana: Horses are the main means of transport, with riverboats used for bulk transportation, guns are the preferred weapon, and everyone defends their own house. Bandits and robbers are everywhere. It all seems very much like the Wild West - that is, before the princesses are mentioned. Cooking ingredients such as maple syrup and potatoes imply that the setting is somewhere in North America. Some readers take the decreased fertility and stillbirths of males to mean it takes place somewhen in the future after mankind wrecked the environment, rebuilt civilization, and forgot about it. The Whistler family lives on a farm they built themselves, surrounded by wilderness, with the only neighbors living half a day's ride away by horse.
  • Farmer's Daughter: Jerin is a male version of this trope, also a Farm Boy, but with several women being attracted to his innocent sweetness, and ALL of his relatives wielding rifles, he's a farmer's son, too.
  • Fashion Magazine: The Men's fashion magazine for the coming season shows up in the first chapter with Corellenote  showing Jerin what he should wear when they show him around the neighborhood. The men in them wear much tighter, more revealing clothes than Jerin is willing to consider, and he thinks they are not proper, but it's different for the nobility. He ends up wearing such an outfit.
    • It's implied that these may count as Poor Man's Porn as many women aren't likely to see a man who isn't their relation and even then that's only for moderately wealthy families.
  • Female Gaze: Many of the viewpoint characters will focus on a man's lips or hands, "Men's Fashion Magazines" tout the codpiece, as it lets potential wives see what they're buying.
  • Feuding Families: A historical one rose to the level of an especially pointless Civil War called The War of the False Eldest. Since both sides were originally part of the same family it makes things all the more awkward. The losing branch of the family was executed down to the last woman. But not the last man: Prince Alannon was kidnapped by Whistlers during the war, became their husband, and raised up a family.
  • Fictional Currency: The Queensland Crown or "crowns", which are implied to be made of gold, then there are "Gil" for silver and quince for what are probably bronze.
  • Fictional Document: Jerin goes through his and his brothers' birth certificates, which are a bit different from birth certificates in our world. He also receives a letter at some point in the narrative, which is quoted in the book.
  • First Girl Wins: Sort of. The first woman Jerin gets physically close to who isn't a relative is Odelia, who finds him amazingly attractive. The woman who seduces him and he first falls in love with is Ren. However, since they are sisters, marrying Ren means marrying Odelia too, and Jerin falls in love with her, too.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Odelia feigns being more badly hurt than she actually is out of hope for Jerin to keep tending her, fantasizing about stealing a kiss from him. She later mentions how good he was at comforting her when she first woke up.
  • Flowers of Masculinity: As part of the book's theme of inverted gender norms, Jerin has tiny flowers braided into his long hair when he's presented at the Royal ball.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Odelia and Ren, the two princesses Jerin meets first and the two eldest (counting the absent Halley out). Odelia is happy-go-lucky and would rather kiss pretty boys than take up any royal duties. Meanwhile, Ren is The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask. This trope is downplayed, because Ren is not so above kissing (and more) pretty boys herself.
  • Forced to Watch: One of the Porter sisters turned Cira's lover against her years ago. When she's abducted while trying to save Jerin]] he says he'll do anything they want forever if they don't kill her. So they don't. Instead, they tie them to a bed, Jerin on it, Cira at the foot and gag her so she's there while one of them "rapes his mouth".
  • Foreshadowing: When Cullen is telling Jerin about his Practice Kiss with Lylia, he says it was like kissing his own sister, then adds, "I'm sure kissing your sister wouldn't be the same". By the end of the book, Cullen is married to some of Jerin's sisters, at least one of whom is pregnant.
    • When they're made to leave the theater, during a play about an attempted coup, Ren and Halley argue over whether the entire family—even the youngest children—of the would-be royal usurpers should have been killed. Ren argues for mercy to the children, while Halley is adamant that ending the whole family was the only practical course. They repeat the argument at the end of the book, when they learn which family has been trying to kill off the royal sisters. There is also a young child in that family.
  • Formerly Fit: no named characters, but it's mentioned that husbands in noble families lead such sheltered lives that it's hard for them to get exercise, and many become stout in later life. Notably, Jerin and Cullen only get to stroll in a garden at the palace, and Cullen's longing for a more active life.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: What everyone hopes for in when negotiating a marriage. This can go wrong in any number of ways, such as if you're one of the younger sisters like Trinip was, and can't shake your smitten Eldest sister from her choice after she missed some obvious character flaws in her choice of a husband. That's how you end up in an abusive relationship.
  • Friend to All Children: Jerin is good with kids but doesn't let them walk all over him, even the little princesses, which makes him look that much more suitable as a husband.
  • Friendless Background: Jerin doesn't have any male friends and he doesn't like the neighbor's boy, Balin Brindle. The only non-related woman he has close contact with prior to the plot is his teacher Miss Skinner. She's a kind of family friend, and Jerin had a crush on her. When he meets the young nobleman Cullen, they become friends immediately, as both of them are thrilled to finally have someone their own age to talk to.
  • Full-Name Basis: Everyone refers to the eldest sister of a family with her full name. They have to, as the eldest sister of every family is called "Eldest". When there are children, the name is changed to "Mother Elder + Lastname".
  • Fully-Clothed Nudity: A nightdress that falls to the knee is practically as decent as a walking robe! ...only not, if it's all you're wearing when your trip to the kitchen for a midnight snack is interrupted by a horny princess.
  • Futureshadowing: It's pretty clear early on that Princess Odelia is looking for a husband, as she and her sisters aren't married. Yet we also learn that Princess Ren has some sexual experience. (Something unusual for an unmarried woman or man here) The fact that they were married, and their husband was a jerk whose death was a relief, is only revealed and shown in a nightmare-scene later. Likewise, it is known pretty early that he did something horrible to Princess Trini, and she's shy and misanthropic as a result. However, the reader (and the younger princesses) are only told later what, exactly.
  • Gaia's Lament: Possible reason why so few boys are born, as male fetuses are known to be more vulnerable to pollution and other detrimental effects than female ones. Frequent male stillbirths point at the fact that this is not just some evolutionary quirk.
  • Gendercide: People aren't so much sterile as mostly unable to produce male offspring. This results in a world where there is about one boy born for every ten girls. It is never mentioned what lead to this, but it could be a post-apocalyptic setting, with environmental pollution being the cause of frequent stillbirth of male babies. Society adapted to this, and the setting is quite cozy by post-apocalyptic standards. There is, however, literal gendercide mentioned in an offhand comment about a family which has thirty daughters (borne by ten mothers or so, but only one husband), and only one son, with someone saying that they would probably "litter the land with the dead bodies of female babies if they thought they could get away with it", as it is suspected they keep having babies in the hope for a second son.
  • Gender Rarity Value: Men are carefully secluded and protected from "husband raids", which are illegal but always at the edge of Jerin's mind. It's mentioned that outside of some public events, a woman may never see an unveiled man who isn't her father or grandfather or, if she's lucky, her brother or her husband. Women who were fathered in the cribs may never have seen a man at all. The trope is ever-present in many of the forms that the local culture has taken.
  • Girls with Guns: When it's not being a Romance Novel, it is this thanks to a combination of World of Action Girls and the invention of firearms. Mainly revolvers, but rifles also show up as do cannons.
  • Give Away the Bride: The bridegroom is given away at the betrothal. His sister walks him to his eldest bride, who then clasps his right hand in her hands. The full wedding ceremony takes place in the temple of Hera later.
  • Glorified Sperm Donor: This is more common than not, given how rare men are in the setting; Women of the lower (therefore most populist) classes usually go to so-called "cribs" to get pregnant, and the sperm donor is documented to avoid inbreeding. Only from middle-class up do people have an actual father. The Whistler family has a shared grandfather and shared father, and may not be otherwise related at all - Jerin suspects that his grandmothers just pretended to be sisters, in order to be able to rise to middle-class.
  • God Before Dogma: Princess Ren is religious, and argues in favor of the traditional system of polygyny but points out that "nowhere in the holy book does it say we should treat boys like property". The protagonists are also critical of the religious taboo on adoption, and it is unclear whether that taboo has any basis in scripture, or whether it is just a tradition.
  • Going Commando: An early scene where Jerin is sans pants or undergarments and just in a nightshirt heading to the kitchen for a snack, which is how he's dressed when he meets the similarly clad Princess Ren, who is bedding down there for the night. Later in the book he's scandalized to find that he is expected to wear tight clothing including a codpiece, which he can't wear anything beneath.
  • Gold Digger: A Brother's Price can be arranged for the purpose of gold-digging by the relatives, and it very often is.
    • Keifer Porter is a rare male example in fiction, but common in the setting. He was fully onboard with his sisters' decision to marry him to the Princesses - they got the money, and became sisters-in-law with the royals, he got fancy clothes and jewelry, a luxurious life, and was planning on having the husband's quarters redecorated with gilding and all sorts of expensive extras.
    • The Whistlers, being a comparably poor family, are suspected of being gold-diggers, but they aren't; they want Jerin to be happy, and never even dreamt of being able to marry him to a noble family before the opportunity presented itself.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Unwanted pregnancy seems rare, even Teen Pregnancy isn't an issue, given how hard it is to find a good sperm donor and the constant risk of sexually-transmitted disease. Still, after the death of some family members, grieving Kij Porter went to a Crib and "didn't catch anything other than a baby". She keeps the baby. Subverted in that Kij Porter is not really a good girl, and the child's father is not who she claims; the truth is much grimmer.
  • Good Parents: The Whistler mothers, and recently deceased father are/were good parents. They are absent for most of the plot, but the way in which the elder siblings take over their role clearly shows that they had good role models.
  • Good Pays Better: Jerin's grandmothers were common thieves, until one of them was caught by some military officers and argued that thieves would make excellent spies for the government. She succeeded, and after the war, the surviving sisters were knighted. Jerin's family is quite well off when the novel takes place, and while they do have the skills to be excellent thieves, they are firmly on the side of good and government.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Played Straight with Jerin, as well as his grandfather Alannon, whom he remembers fondly; we learn that both he and Jerin's father gave Jerin The Talk about pleasuring women. It is later revealed that Alannon was trained in some obscure art of lovemaking. All those men are depicted as unambiguously good people.
  • Good Samaritan: What kicks off the plot. The law actually compels the Whistler family to do so, but as Jerin is alone at home with his younger sisters (who aren't strong enough to carry her), some of them suggest just ignoring the injured soldier and pretend to haven't known about it if asked later. He still risks his safety by going outside to carry her to safety. Later, Queen Eldest remarks that this was something they want to encourage, which is why the Queen's generously rewarded the family. It helps that the wounded soldier is Princess Odelia, and the reward is in part an excuse to get the Queen's okay to marry Jerin.
  • Good Versus Good: The Whistler family are the protagonists and each sister showcase different opinions when it comes to the question of marriage. As all sisters in a family usually have to share one husband, the selection of said husband is a matter on which there can be various valid opinions.
  • Guile Hero: Though she arrives pretty late in the book Cira/Princess Halley makes a good impression especially her single-handed infiltration of the criminal underworld.
  • Guyliner: Averted, interesting given how much the book plays with gender roles. Even at court, Jerin is not put in makeup other than penciled chalk under his nails. When makeup does come up in the story, it's worn by women - specifically whores, women who sometimes dress as men to attract other women - they wear lip paint to draw attention to their mouths and suggest that they know how to use them. Jerin ends up disguised as a whore, and his companion has to apply the makeup herself.
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    H-K 
  • Hair Color Spoiler: All the royal family has red hair, which is even called "royal red" because they all have it. Princess Halley averts a hair color spoiler by dying her hair before she goes undercover to solve a crime.
  • Handguns: As is typical for a Wild West setting. While the Whistlers favor rifles for serious engagements they still carry handguns around. Even Jerin has a derringer, though actually using it freaks him out.
  • Hand on Womb: Upon their arrival at Jerin's wedding, Cullen is seen doing this to Eldest Whistler, hinting at a pregnancy.
  • Happily Ever After: Here, the last lines of the novel, occurring after great strife, ends with Jerin's point of view and this slightly ambiguous sentence.
    Surely, the gods were merciful and loving. Surely they smiled upon this union, and he and his wives would live happily ever after.
  • Happy Rain: Jerin is out in what is at first a Gray Rain of Depression, considering killing himself. When Ren comes and shares the news that his worst fears haven't come to pass, it becomes this tropes.
  • Harmful to Minors: About half of the royal family died in an explosion prior to the plot. Ren and Halley watched, having just left the building. They were the youngest who had been allowed to come to the theater, their even younger toddler and baby sisters weren't there. It is revealed later that their father was poisoned before that.
  • Harmless Lady Disguise: Women are not the "harmless" sex in this world, but in a sense it still applies. Whores are women who prostitute themselves to other women and often try to look like men. At one point Jerin goes out disguised as one of them and is amazed at how little attention is paid to him.
  • Harp of Femininity: At the royal ball there are dulcimers, harp-like instruments, are being played by women. Given how compact the narrative is it's an important distinction given the Stereotype Flip that has everything "masculine" in that world codes very closely to what "feminine" is in the western world, and vice versa.
  • Has Two Mommies: Or six or twelve, any child of a family unit treats the previous generation as their mother, some might be more involved with rearing their children others might not. However in families that have one, men get the brunt of childcare duties; but as they are rather fragile, if a husband dies without leaving an old enough son it's left to the mothers to raise the children.
  • Heel Realization: A mild version when Ren explains to Jerin that he is allowed to say 'no' to women. She mentions that she probably sounds "quite the hypocrite", as she was quite insistent in her efforts to seduce Jerin.
  • He Knows Too Much: The protagonists find the corpse of a man who likely died from blood loss after his tongue was cut out. They conclude that the women who killed his family and kidnapped him wanted to keep him around, but didn't want him to be able to talk, and were too incompetent to silence him without killing him. Later on, one of Jerin's kidnappers advises her sisters not to talk too much in front of Jerin, as she would like her future husband to have a tongue.
  • Head-Tiltingly Kinky: At the Mayfair ball Kij Porter asks Jerin if it's true that his grandfather was trained in "The Paths of Pleasure" and passed this knowledge to him. He is very embarrassed as it is not an appropriate topic of conversation, but eventually admits that his father and grandfather gave him The Talk, and he sort of knows what it's all about. When another character mentions that Jerin can do "magic" (talking about magic tricks, it's Low Fantasy), the woman who had sex with him immediately thinks of their encounter and hopes that he didn't do ''that'' in front of the children.
  • Heir Club for Men: Notably averted by the fact that all sisters of a family rule together, and their daughters are all considered heirs to the throne. Men presumably cannot inherit the throne, but as boys are so rare that a family with four boys out of thirty-two children is considered lucky, this is not a problem that is likely to ever present itself.
  • Heir-In-Law: Again this Society is matriarchal, but a father with royal blood confers status, and the protagonist is kidnapped to be such.
  • Held Gaze: This happens when they arrive in Mayfair, before Jerin is kissed by a dashing stranger.
  • Help Mistaken for Attack: Ren thinks she's being attacked when Eldest Whistler tackles her, but she's actually being saved from a trap that's going to take her head off.
    • Something like this ensues when Cira offers Jerin her help. Unsurprisingly, as he had seen her working together with his kidnappers. She had been infiltrating them.
  • Henpecked Husband: Played With - husbands are expected to be submissive to their wives, so nobody would find this funny in comedy. On the other hand, Jerin's grandmothers are said to have been Roosterpecked Wives - what grandpa wanted, grandpa got. His being an extremely handsome man and prince of the realm may have had something to do with that. As Jerin recalls, his grandfather never had to resort to nagging, and the marriage was a happy one for all involved.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: The "flame-haired" Princesses seem to affect our protagonist like an aphrodisiac—every one of them. Even when that hair is hidden under dye.
  • Heroic Bastard: All of the Whistler grandmothers were fathered on trips to "cribs", sort of brothels that women too poor to marry visit with the aim of becoming pregnant. So in a sense, they are Daughters of Prostitutes.
  • Higher Education Is for Women: All education is for women. Jerin's ability to read and write is highly unusual ... not to mention his ability to read thieves' cant. He meets Cullen, whose cousin tries to teach him how to read and write, but Cullen isn't a good pupil as he considers it a waste of time.
  • The High Queen: Queen Elder (and her sisters who rule collaboratively, who don't appear much and aren't distinguished), a wise and kind ruler, who does everything in her power to ensure the safety of the country. The story doesn't dwell much on her beauty, though it is mentioned that she shares her daughters' delicate features.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": The oldest sister in any family actually is "Eldest", as while we get to know the actual names of women who have taken on the title of "Eldest" because the eldest sister died, the first-born girl of a family is never called anything other than "Eldest." Apparently, when she (or one of her sisters) has her first child, she takes on the title of "Mother Elder" to avoid confusion. (Note that regardless of who actually gave birth to the child in question, all members of the birth mother's group of sisters are considered a mother of the child.)
  • History Repeats: Played for Drama There was a civil war between two branches of the royal family not so long ago, and the royal family is genre-savvy enough not to risk a repetition by splitting the family again. This means that all the princesses have to marry one husband. However, there is the additional problem that their now-deceased ex-husband was evil, and they married him against the warnings of Princess Trini. They do not want that one to repeat itself either, but Trini, who was hurt most, is understandably reluctant to marry anyone.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Keifer was assigned to have the older princesses go to a theater so when it caught fire they would be killed. It was specifically chosen so he could duck out the back and escape, but he missed his cue and stayed; Eldest Porter came to fetch him but was killed as well.
  • Holding Hands: What happens when Trini finally warms a bit to Jerin.
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: "Easy as mud: dirt and water," "Bad apples only come from apple trees," and "It's a tasteless stew, but it's all we have to eat." The Whistlers also have a family-specific saying, variations on "Catch a shining coin."
  • Hollywood Encryption: Jerin finds a book written in some simplistic fake thieves' cant. Justified, as Kiefer needed to be able to read and was Too Dumb to Live (yes, really, literally), and it had to be that simple. Of course, Jerin, a trained codebreaker, figured it out quickly and other characters can too.
  • Homeschooled Kids: Jerin and his brothers are homeschooled. This is unusual — most boys in the setting are implied to get no education at all, and their sisters actually went to a schoolhouse. The princesses, of course, had private tutors on retainer.
  • Honor Before Reason: Averted by the Whistlers. Jerin gives his "word of honor" he will cooperate and not try to escape if only the villains will spare Cira, who is a little shocked when he breaks his word at the first opportunity. He retorts that you meet liars and traitors on their own level—and in his opinion allowing himself to be raped would be much worse.
  • Honorable Marriage Proposal: Gender-Inverted like so many other tropes, there's about one man for every ten women, and as such, sisters will share a husband between them. Given that STD Immunity is averted, there's a very real fear that a husband who's had sex before could have picked up something, which would subsequently spread to all of his wives. At one point in the book, main character Jerin has been kidnapped by a group of women who made their marriage-intent extremely well-known earlier in the book, in addition to having been alone with Cira, who has been rescuing Jerin from kidnappers. When he mentions this trope to the latter, she reassures Jerin that she is perfectly willing to marry him to protect his reputation. He doesn't believe her, as she would never be able to pay the brother's price for him all by herself, but since she's the missing Princess Halley, she's already one of his wives, though he didn't know that at the time.
  • Hooked Up Afterwards: As expected from the Jane-Austen-style plot elements, there is one match in the making at the end of the novel, Jerin's cousin Dail would like to marry the Moorland sisters, and Cullen Whistler, née Moorland approves of the idea Also, depending on how you define it, Jerin doesn't "hook up" with all of his wives on the wedding night, as some of them are not yet of age.
  • Hope Bringer: Cira kisses Jerin and tells Jerin that he gives her hope. Mostly because they've been imprisoned by the villains, and Jerin has remarkable lockpicking skills. But she seems to mean it in a more metaphorical sense, too.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Replete with these, there's Corelle, who goes to chase the neighbour boy's pants, even though she should stay home and guard the farm; Lylia, who is looking forward to her wedding night so much that her sisters think she'll happily marry any relatively handsome young man; and Cullen, who is very interested in the dirty pictures his cousin Lylia provides. Jerin wants to stay chaste and pure until he marries, but his hormones make this very difficult.
  • Hot Consort: Men who marry the Princesses/Queens of Queensland are not called princes or kings, but consorts. Keifer was chosen because the elder princesses were smitten by his looks and his sisters let them sample the merchandise before marriage, but he was an idiot. Jerin has more going for him intellectually, but Ren does emphasize his beauty.
  • Hot Guy, Ugly Wife: The breathtakingly handsome Jerin is worried about this trope when it comes to the Brindle sisters, all of whom he thinks "look like horses". Instead, he marries a women who has scars all over her face and upper body, a sight which disgusted her ex-lover so much that she left her. As sororal polygyny is the norm, not all of his wives are ugly, but this one is.
  • Hot Teacher: Jerin mentions having had a crush on Miss Skinner, his teacher. He notes that his younger brother now shows the first signs of also having a crush on her. As she came to the farm to tutor the boys, who weren't allowed in a regular school 'cause they're boys, she is the only non-related woman both of them saw frequently, which Jerin suspects is part of the reason why they all have a crush on her. As he expresses no surprise about having found her pretty, she is likely a Hot Teacher.
  • House Husband: Any man not too young to marry or be in the cribs strives for this role; this is the only way to be respectable since there's no hint of them holding a trade of any kind.
  • Hub City: Mayfair, Capital of Queensland is this. The rich from all over the country come to the place for balls and it's a major legal and trade destination for the country too. It took its place from the previous castle due to the War of the False Eldest.
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: Corelle has lots of complaints regarding her brother Jerin. He talks too posh, he doesn't wear the right clothes ... but when some woman dares imply that Jerin would be lucky if a noblewoman like her would deign to marry him, Corelle is enraged. Justified in that this is an insult to (social standing of) the whole family, but it's also clear that Corelle won't let someone outside the family insult her brother.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: It would be stretching to call Princess Ren "incompetent", but she is inexperienced and still trying to adjust to being the leader and the Eldest Princess, even six years after her older sisters died in a theater explosion. She relies rather heavily on the experience and advice of Captain Raven Tern, and as the novel progresses the Captain isn't ever pushed aside, but Ren comes to stand on her own more.
    • To consider the Captain's responsibilities, she's a direct assistant to the princesses and is trusted to escort the Whistlers to Mayfair for Jerin's season. Also acts as the field commander for retrieving the cannons.
  • I Can Still Fight!: One of the princesses refuses to stay out of combat: "We had to all but sit on her to keep her where things are safer."
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Cira says this a couple of times while rescuing Jerin from kidnappers, some of whom she kills. She would, of course, normally not have exposed a delicate young man to such cruelty. In the backstory, some princesses, after seeing a play about a civil war, at the end of which toddlers were executed, reason that their ancestors did what they had to do, as any survivors would have led to a You Killed My Mother situation. That said, when faced with a similar decision at the end, they ultimately choose to Take a Third Option to avoid either option.
  • Idle Rich: When Jerin gets a taste of real wealth when he finally gets engaged, he quickly finds that for him the idleness is enforced, it's confining, and he's bored. He and his sisters end up reading a newspaper "to death" and have to be rescued by friends.
  • I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham: Trini is adamant that no, she does not want a husband, least of all that stranger with whose pretty face her sisters fell in love. She eventually consents to marry him, because he'd otherwise have to marry into a family she thinks one shouldn't even give a dog to. Soon after the engagement, she is as fond of the fiancé as her sisters are.
  • I Gave My Word: Eldest Whistler promises Ren not to take unnecessary risks while scouting, and does refrain from acts to keep it.
    • Subverted with Jerin when you are threatened with death you do what you can to survive.
  • Ignored Expert: Captain Hawk Tern, head of the guard and expert for security, warns the royal family that the theatre they're going to visit hasn't been properly checked for safety risks. They go inside nevertheless, because their husband Keifer is impatient and prone to temper tantrums … and in the middle of the play, the theatre explodes.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: this is what men fear if they are captured. Due to Gender Rarity Value, sons and brothers are guarded well, but occasionally a man is kidnapped. Jerin gets into such a situation. His female companion is Forced to Watch. One of the male examples where this is not played for comedy at all.
  • I Have Your Wife: The villains kidnap a husband in order to invoke this trope. However, it fails, as one of his wives has infiltrated the lower class criminals hired to do the job. So it is more of a "your sister has her husband, and we are trying to get them both."
  • I Lied: When Cira reminds Jerin he gave their captors his word of honor not to try to escape: he replies with this trope.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Played With, while the teenaged Jerin always acts the perfect gentleman, he is unable to say no when a woman tries to seduce him, which is a problem because he could be considered to be Defiled Forever. Eldest Whistler invokes this trope, by pointing out that they never taught him how to resist a woman's advances, and Culturally boys are expected to be open and outgoing, so it's not his fault.
  • I Miss Mom: Gender-flipped, both Jerin and Ren had warm, loving fathers who they miss terribly. Justified given the differing roles men are expected to take.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: When he dressed for a royal ball, Jerin complains that he feels like that fantasy world's equivalent of a Christmas tree. The dress includes tight trousers with a codpiece, and all kinds of bells, flowers, and feathers were woven into his hair. There are also bells at the sleeves of his shirt.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Whistlers are perfectly secure in their lands and pay their taxes but compared to the power players of Queensland they're country bumpkins and have barely any money to spend. The idea of purchasing a trading post would be a major investment for them but could well break their bank; a season in Mayfair for Jerin is a huge opportunity for them.
  • Impractically Fancy Outfit: Jerin and his sisters attend a ball at the palace. Their clothes (paid for by the royal family) are made of fabric that would be ruined if it came in contact with rain and Jerin has to be sewn into his outfit, as it is too tight to put on the normal way.
  • Improvised Weapon: A heavy stone paperweight is pressed into service on two separate occasions, once for good and once for evil.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: Called Hera's Step here, waterfalls are regular hazards on the river system and people have a genuine worry about how to deal with them. Water locks are mentioned at one point.
  • Infallible Babble: Subverted, the newspapers make every rumor easily available to everyone, and very little of what they say that the characters notice is true.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Inasmuch as this is possible in a non-illustrated book. Egan Wainwright was repeatedly called handsome, to the point of being shown to visiting royalty. When he's found murdered and stripped, the narration says he had "no dignity in death" and notes scrawny hairy legs and a paunchy stomachnote . Somewhat justified, though; this is a world where men are so rare and so rarely seen that anyone with all his teeth and both eyes are considered attractive.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Little Bunny Whistler attempts this, but when she voices her belief that Daddy has "gone away", Jerin gently tells her that no, sweetie, Daddy died.
  • Innocent Innuendo: after Jerin has been kidnapped, rescued by Cira, and re-kidnapped with her in tow, and has just picked the lock on his handcuffs.
    Cira: Get in the bed.
    Jerin: What?! [blushes]
    Cira: Pretend that you are still handcuffed.
  • Insatiable Newlyweds:Justified, sex before marriage is frowned upon. When Jerin's sisters get married, they tell their parents-in-law that their husband Cullen looks so well because he's getting so much "exercise", "riding"... while one of the wives has her hands all over his body. He's a very happy young man, and presumably not only because he's fond of horses.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Both Jerin and Cira/ Princess Halley, though for different reasons.
    • Jerin because he's being kidnapped at the time and has his whole future threatened.
    • Cira because she thinks her scars mar her beauty.
  • Interesting Situation Duel: There's the climatic fight on board a steamship that is slowly approaching a waterfall, Hera's Step, with the steering wheel destroyed, so that whoever wins, they risk dying anyway in the fall.
  • Intimate Psychotherapy: Subverted, Kij Porter, a noblewoman, is said to have gone to a "crib" (a brothel), in order to cope with the death of several of her relatives. Due to high prevalence of STDs, a noblewoman wouldn't usually have sex out of wedlock, so her grief is universally considered the reason why she did something so utterly foolish. It is not mentioned whether it actually helped. It's later learned that she most likely did not actually use a crib, but claimed she had to cover her daughter's true paternity.
  • Instant Sedation: Downplayed, Jerin fights back when kidnapped and eventually is given some kind of injection. While it does make him stop fighting effectively instantly, he's still conscious in an increasingly distorted way for several minutes.
  • In the Back: Corelle Whistler shoots someone in the back during an espionage mission. Aware of this trope and unwilling to look like a traitor or a coward, she justifies it, noting that the woman she shot was trying to kill Eldest Whistler.
  • In the Blood: Played straight with Jerin, who resembles his grandfather who was a royal prince in looks and behavior. Discussed with Neddie Whistler, who is adopted into the Whistler clan despite her family being villains. The Whistlers obviously don't believe in this trope.
  • In the Hood: The commanders of the criminals whom the Whistlers and the Princesses fight together use hoods. Doesn't help them (much), as the Whistlers just go after the person with the red hood, who they assume is the leader.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Jerin is captured by women who want to forcibly marry him in order to take the throne of Queensland. They aren't going to kill him if they can at all help it, but they could definitely do some unpleasant things to him, and they will kill his friend. So... he thinks quickly and claims total surrender, that he will be a good lover and husband, if they just don't kill his friend. Said friend is very surprised to find he was lying to get their guard down.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Fashionable: A complicated example, Jerin's season in the capital is funded by the royal family supposedly as thanks for saving princess Odelia's life. But it's also a chance for the two princesses to show their potential spouse off to best advantage to the rest of the Princesses thanks to the services of Tailors.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Jerin is told that he's quite a looker. (Which surprises him, as he doesn't often talk to women who aren't family). Later, the reader learns that Jerin looks very much like his grandfather. He remembers the kindly old man fondly, and sometimes wonders how his grandfather managed to wrap the grandmothers around his little fingers, being such a soft-spoken, gentleman. He finds out.
  • I Wished You Were Dead: Princess Halley said she wished Keifer was dead the moment before a bomb went off in the theater he—and several of her older sisters—were inside of.
  • The Jailbait Wait: Sort of. When a man is married into a family, he marries all of the sisters, regardless of age—including children and any unborn or yet-to-be-conceived daughters of the mothers. He's not to service his wives until they are of age, and a chunk of the responsibility for caring for and nurturing younger wives falls to him.
  • Jerkass: Corelle. She gets better later, but her personality remains on the rougher side. Also, Keifer Porter lacks any positive qualities or sensible relatives who would prevent him from becoming cruel and spoiled rotten.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Ren, Lylia and Halley get away with kissing a boy they are not married to, which should usually draw his sisters' ire, and/or make him a bit angry, as it could easily end with him being Defiled Forever. This is most likely intentional, as it is a gender-swapped setting, and it is lampshaded that boys are raised to be unable to say "no" to women, but at the same time expected to be chaste. To her credit, Ren does some of the lampshading, and acknowledges that she probably sounds like a hypocrite for telling her victim that he should be allowed to say no. He liked the kisses, but that doesn't excuse it.
    • Played With in the case of Keifer Porter, who was never punished for the rape, abuse and murder he committed, but did die in an accident later on - in which, however, lots of innocent people also died.
  • Keet: Cullen is a rather excitable outgoing guy whose personality rapidly captures the heart of Eldest Whistler and others of her generation. He also helps Jerin adapt to his new royal circumstances.
  • Kick the Dog: Keifer Porter has committed a lot of unmotivated nastiness in the backstory. Among other things, he told his wives' little cousin that eating too many cookies would make his "you know what" fall off. And no, he was not talking about teeth. He also beat up and raped one of his child-wives because she criticized him, which may or may not qualify, depending on whether one counts the fact that Trini might have been discouraged from opposing him a second time as a net gain. His only redeeming action, if one may call it that, was demanding that Ren be sent out of the opera house because her crying at a sad scene in the opera annoyed him. Would also be dog-kicking, if not for the fact that the building exploded minutes later, and Ren survived because she was outside. Most probably that was not his intention, though.
  • The Kindnapper: The backstory has the Whistler Grandmothers having kidnapped Grandfather Alannon, and did everything to make him feel at home on their farm. It turned out well though. That his family was killed in a civil war, and he might have been sold as a Sex Slave or killed, too, if he hadn't been kidnapped, might have had something to do with it. Him being Silk Hiding Steel and his new wives driving themselves dizzy to make sure he was happy and comfortable were other factors.
  • Kind Restraints: Cira holds Jerin in a way that makes him unable to move and puts her hand over his mouth, as they're just beside the road on which the women who kidnapped Jerin are riding, and she plans to trick them into riding past. Jerin thinks she's one of them, so he struggles a lot.
  • Kiss Diss: Jerin does this to Kij when she makes a public move on him, stepping away from her to allow his sister to intervene. He dislikes her as a person, is already in love with at least one of the princesses, is in a culture that strongly disapproves of such contact between a man and a woman who are not married to each other, and is embarrassed by the public setting. Entitled much, Kij?
  • Kissing Cousins: Spoilery example aside, Ren and Jerin share great-great-grandmothers, making them third cousins. There's also mention of a Practice Kiss having been tried between cousins Lylia and Cullen. It is later made clear that cousin marriages are acceptable as long as the biological relationship is no closer than first half-cousins. The princesses can't marry their cousin Cullen because his biological mother and the late Prince Consort were full siblings.
  • Knighting: Jerin's grandfather Alannon was a prince, so Jerin's grandmothers had to wait until they were knighted (for heroism in war) to marry him, as mere commoners couldn't marry a prince. Apparently, their sense of propriety didn't stop them from keeping their husband a secret from his remaining family ... of course, since his branch of the family was executed for treason by the other branch, he didn't see much of a point in getting in touch with the family, either.
    L-R 
  • Lady Land: What Queensland appears to be, since men are so carefully protected. There's a big procession in the capital at the end of the book, in which it's noted that there are even some men at the upper stories of buildings watching.
  • Last-Name Basis: An interesting piece of the Queensland culture; The firstborn daughter of any family is named Eldest and raised to be the leader of her siblings. When someone outside of the family addresses Eldest, it's almost always by the last name. Eldest Whistler is introduced as Eldest Whistler, and that's how she's handled in the narration, but called Whistler when spoken to. If an Eldest dies one of her sisters is considered "eldest", but keeps her name and isn't called by her family name.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Cullen's sisters want him to be the proper man, decorative and safe. He's horse-mad but his family won't let him near horses because "I had some great-great-grandfart that got kicked in the head and died"; he has a cousin who'll take him to the stables and let him pet them over a low wall, but that's about it. When the Whistlers, who are a lot more liberal in their treatment of men, propose, he tells his sisters he'd be happy with them. They're good to men, they aren't stodgy, they have little brothers so he'd have other men around, they'd teach him how to ri - to write and read.
  • Late Pregnancy Realization: Mother Eldest Whistler first thinks her weight gain is early menopause when she doesn't get her period anymore. She is delighted to find out it is in fact Someone to Remember Him By given her husband had slipped on some ice not a few months prior.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Mostly averted, as women who don't want to get pregnant usually will just take a female lover or be celibate. Women who do have intercourse with one of the rare men do so with the intent to get pregnant. However, it seems that Eldest Whistler got pregnant before getting engaged, or at least this could be suspected. Not played for drama, as she marries the man anyway. Played straight (justified) for most families who desire a boy child, though, as sperm quality is seemingly low, and male babies are frequently stillborn.
  • The Law of Conservation of Detail: Most things the narrative mentions end up being relevant to the plot, and if they aren't, they are there for exposition, such as showing the reader how this Speculative Fiction Low Fantasy world works or to establish a character.
  • Lazy Husband: Played With, keeping house is considered a man's duty, and while a Lazy Husband occasionally exists, most women evaluate a potential husband's housekeeping qualities before they marry him. The abusive Keifer Porter is said to have been very lazy on top of his abuse.
  • Leave No Witnesses: The villains are fond of hiring 'river trash' for transportation and dirty work, then killing them when it's done. Captain Tern actually sets out to track them by looking into records of ship crews who've all been killed.
  • Leonine Contract: The Whistler's make themselves vulnerable to that kind of situation by buying something they cannot quite afford. They manage to get a high brother's price for Jerin and marry him to the woman he loves, but it is dangerous. An example with an even worse situation is when Jerin offers to be a willing Sex Slave to the kidnappers so that they don't kill his companion. He totally lied, though.
  • Let's Wait a While: Despite the undeniable attraction Jerin feels for Ren, he doesn't want to "go all the way" until they're engaged. Well, he does want to, but he knows they shouldn't, and he feels ashamed for going as far as he did.
  • Lewd Lust, Chaste Sex: All the sex scenes are like this. While it is only touching with clothes in between, we get full details, but once the clothes come off, it's only hinted at what they actually do. The scenes where we actually are told what goes where, with no cut, are the ones that aren't meant to be erotic.
  • Lie Back and Think of England Jerin fears that he may have to do this, as he dreads being married to the daughters of the neighboring Brindle family. Eventually, he marries a group of sisters, one of whom was raped by her previous husband and does something that looks suspiciously like a "mount him and think of England" variant of this. They do cuddle affectionately, though.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: Ren asks Captain Raven Tern for advice on whether Jerin would make a good husband. Raven replies that Jerin is a bit like Ren's father (who was poisoned some years ago), but more strong-willed. She points out that this is a good thing, as Ren's father did nothing to prevent the princesses' abusive husband (who also died in the meantime) from, well, abusing them. Jerin is more of a spirited young gentleman and would not give up so easily.
  • Likes Older Women: A desirable trait given that men are considered to be of marriageable age at sixteen. Jerin, for example, had a crush on his teacher, and later falls in love with a woman who is about ten years older than him.
  • Lima Syndrome: Implied to have happened with the Whistler Grandmothers. The Whistlers didn't let Prince Alannon go - since the rest of his family was executed and he was reported missing, he decided to be philosophical about it - but they did "run themselves ragged" doing what they could to make him happy.
  • Lineage Comes from the Father: Lineage means different things in different circumstances. Noble or royal blood through the father gives status (most of the Queensland nobility became so by marrying a royal prince) but land and titles descend only through the female. In addition, birth certificates list the child's pedigree for generations, but solely following the maternal line.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: Jerin decides that man or not, he is still a Whistler and must do everything he can to protect his wives from the impending threat, so he puts on his old walking-robe with the pockets, goes to his wedding chest, and straps on his lockpicks, knife, and derringer - a tiny pistol. He is then promptly kidnapped.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Jerin is the last one to be told that Princess Ren intends to make an offer for his hand in marriage. Justified in that it is a very good match, more than he could hope for, and no one wants to get his hopes up in case it doesn't work out in the end.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: For any attractive man, it is the expected style; the prettiness is negotiable.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Jerin and Princess Ren find out that they are third cousins, sharing great-great-grandmothers. His grandfather was thought to be lost by family, but instead had been abducted and married to his grandmothers. This relation is distant enough that it does not hurt the romance, and in fact the Royal Blood that Jerin thus possesses means it's possible for them to marry.
  • Love Before First Sight: Given men are rare, and unmarried men are chaperoned by their sisters, for STD Immunity is thoroughly averted, and a man who is not pure anymore would be unmarriageable. As a result of this, falling in love with a description is not all that unusual. Therefore, it is no surprise that Ren spends the night in the kitchen in the hopes of meeting Jerin, of whose beauty she knows only from the description of her sister Odelia. She does meet him, and is just as smitten with him as Odelia.
  • Love Confessor: Ren confesses her love for Jerin, and intention to marry him, not to him, but to her closest female friend, Raven. Given the family's missteps with Keifer, the Queen Mother decreed that it must be a unanimous decision of all the older sisters to marry, and given the traumas inflicted, Ren doesn't think she can achieve this.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Princess Eldest and the nine other princesses that made up the eldest group of princesses were so blindly in love with Keifer that they let him treat them poorly and refused to give him back after he raped Trini. Their love is what got them killed.
  • Love Potion: There's a kind of drug that is commonly used on male prostitutes. What exactly it does is left unclear, though the implied "last longer" effect can't be the only one; most likely it's a kind of powerful aphrodisiac, as a woman having one in her possession is viewed as intending to rape a man.
  • Low Fantasy: There's no magic, but it is very clearly not our world. The narrative is not clear on whether it is post-apocalyptic, or the environment just happens to be detrimental to the health of male sperm and/or male fetuses in the womb. The heroism and battles are more of the low-fantasy type, too.
  • Lured into a Trap: Repeatedly; thankfully the Whistlers are there.
    • The plot is kicked off because Princess Odelia chases down some cannon smugglers who double back and attack her, only for a Whistler to drive her off.
    • Later in Mayfair, Princess Ren leads a great number of soldiers of the Queens' Justice to a mill where intel points a Criminal Conspiracy are hiding some of the cannons. Aware that it could be a trap, Eldest and Corelle Whistler go out ahead of them. The enemy actually uses the cannons, and with the soldiers filling the street...
    • Later Ren leads an attack on some dissidents only for it to turn out she's set her riverboat against an ironclad outfitted with the remaining cannons.
    • All these traps were laid by the Porters who are sisters-in-law of the princesses, and know how they think.
  • Lust Object: Jerin Whistler to 'lots of women. Justified—he is a very beautiful man where a good standard is a man who has all his own teeth and no deformations. The non-related women who don't lust after him warn him to not go out unveiled in public, as other women might not be so decent.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: Keifer often withheld sex in conjunction with throwing raging fits in order to get his wives to go along with whatever he wanted. His older wives were madly in love with him, so it tended to work. He cheated on them anyway.
  • Made a Slave: Jerin fears this fate - if he becomes unmarriageable by being Defiled Forever, his sisters will have no other choice than to sell him as Sex Slave. There is even an offer by some women they meet to rent Jerin for a night. His eldest sister is not amused. He is kidnapped later on, which would eventually lead to some form of slavery, but he is rescued.
    • Some sons from lower-class families actually suffer this fate and by the times they're located in the cribs they really are Defiled Forever.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Here "whores" are women who dress like men, and satisfy other women sexually, as about one boy is born for every ten girls. Protagonist Jerin is very careful about staying husband material, and when someone tells him that oral sex (something he was advised to do with his wives as part of The Talk) is something that whores do, he is very embarrassed about having something in common with whores. (Male prostitutes exist, too, but are mainly for making babies, so they don't do oral). He is also worried about being a Technical Virgin, as a man who is not pure and could have an STD won't find wives, and may be sold to the "cribs"—brothels where women go to get pregnant.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Discussed between the princesses who are active working in their realm, and are quite keen on doing the dangerous adventuring tasks themselves. They usually find a compromise that consists of their bodyguard accompanying one or two of them, while the other ones (there are five who are of age) stay at the palace and do the less interesting office work. As the Whistler family is at one point recruited into helping the princesses, this trope is still somewhat in power - while we do not know much about most of them, they are the main protagonist's family.
  • The Makeover: Jerin and his sisters get a makeover prior to the royal ball, courtesy of their royal sponsors providing them with Tailors and other professionals to make sure they don't turn up with dirty fingernails.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Jerin is seduced in the kitchen, and the lovemaking takes place on the kitchen floor. His partner lampshades that this is highly inappropriate by mentioning the hearth ... having extramarital sex goes against Jerin's obligations towards his family, and her seducing him, the son of the house, is a violation of Sacred Hospitality.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: A husband can usually be sure it's his, and the mothers who get pregnant via visiting a "crib" have an interest in truthfully documenting fatherhood, to avoid inbreeding in the future. However, there are rumors about the Brindles, namely that the younger children were not actually fathered by the frail and feeble father of the family, but the son.
  • Mandatory Fatherhood: It's all very well if a woman doesn't want to get pregnant. She's generally got plenty of other sisters who can continue their bloodline. It's also considered nothing noteworthy if she finds small children annoying. Men, on the other hand, are rare and have to marry, are seriously looked down on if they turn out to be infertile, and are expected to do the softer sides of childrearing. A husband or brother who doesn't tend crying children is not well-liked.
  • Marital Rape License: Marital Gang Rape License, to be precise, though it's more because of the babies than for fulfilling sexual needs.
    • It's even discussed—women admit that in this society, where a family's existence can literally depend on having a son (to swap for a husband) and the odds of conceiving one are so low, they just can't afford to raise boys to say "no." Jerin is terrified of the prospect of having to "service" the thirty less-than-desirable Brindle women.
    • Cuts both ways—Keifer, the first husband of the princesses attacked and raped and tortured Trini, but convinced her older sister that "she provoked him", and got off with no punishment at all. When he dies sometime after the incident, he is not missed.
      • Some double standards exist; Trini raping him wouldn't have been seen as so easily forgivable, but if Keifer had raped some random woman all he would be punished for is adultery.
  • Marriage Before Romance: A given in arranged marriages and a man marries all the sisters in a family sororal polygyny, which with family sizes up to thirty, makes it impossible for everyone to be in love with each other prior to the wedding. Jerin manages to marry for love but is not in love with all of his wives by the end of the book - which is a good thing, considering that some of them are still children. He considers this normal and is optimistic about his future happiness.
  • Marry for Love: What Jerin really wants is to marry into a family he'll love instead of simply enduring. He gets his wish, falling in love with all the princesses. This isn't a common view for the setting but he has chance to expect it as one of his own cousins was able to choose what family he married into.
  • Marry Them All: Luckily for Jerin, all of the women to whom he's attracted turn out to be the royal princesses.
  • Mars-and-Venus Gender Contrast: Eldest Whistler explains to Jerin that this is due to the different upbringing. Families spoil and coddle the rare boys, who as a result will be emotionally open and trusting, but teach the girls to mistrust everyone and search for weapons before hugging anyone. This might just apply to the Whistlers but it isn't quite disproven by the other male characters.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Somewhat, by our standards. More attention is paid to beautifying males, who have long flowing hair and do domestic things. Jerin is actually somewhat feminine by their standards, since he was taught to do things men usually don't learn.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Jerin has twenty-eight sisters and three brothers. Then again, they were born to twelve mothers so that's less than three apiece. Families with decent male birthrates (or a lot of money to buy more husbands) can split occasionally to work against this, but for a family like the Brindles (thirty women and only one brother), it will only get worse.
  • A Match Made in Stockholm: Decades ago, Jerin's grandfather Prince Allanon was abducted by the Whistlers, a band of soldier-spy True Companions calling themselves sisters, much to his dismay. Since this was part of a Civil War and not long after that the entire side of the prince's family was executed for treason, he decided there wasn't much point in going back. Later such 'husband raids' became illegal.
    • He did grow fond of his initially involuntary wives, who fell over themselves to make him comfortable and happy. Giving him the freedom to set standards on his male children's education was a major point as well.
  • Maternally Challenged: Women are not expected to care for babies, so Captain Tern's attitude (she left home because her baby sisters annoyed her so much) is considered unremarkable. Balin Brindle's lack of competence around small children, however, is considered highly unusual, and a reason to not marry him.
  • Matriarchy: A variant of the "gender-flip of patriarchy," complicated by the change in male:female ratio.
    • As men are only about three to five percent of the adult population, and are regarded as more delicate and fragile than women, mostly relegated to House Husband duties. Women are far more collective than they would be in a simple patriarchy flip. Sisters, born to a set of sisters married to one man, look to the firstborn among them, their Eldest, as an authority.
  • Matricide: The antagonists are evil enough to do this. The reason being the Porters needed to sacrifice someone of their family to make themselves look like fellow victims, and their mothers had become senile and were talking about family secrets too carelessly.
  • Meaningful Background Event: Bandits are the reason why Jerin meets Odelia, and they are always there as a danger to be dealt with by the women. When Jerin is kidnapped, it turns out that the mastermind behind it was the same as with the other crimes, and it is all part of one big plan.
  • Meet Cute: Jerin meets Ren when he sneaks to the kitchen to get something to eat (he hasn't eaten all day because he didn't want to show his face with so many strange women in the house), Ren startles him, and he nearly falls into the fireplace, so she has to catch him.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Corelle seems to have a bad case of this. In fact dividing a family's numerous daughters into "eldest", "middle" and "youngest" cadres seems to be standard practice in Queensland. Since family authority goes strictly by seniority you can imagine how much this must suck for assertive younger sisters.
  • Midnight Snack: After hiding in his room from the female visitors all day, had no opportunity to eat much, and, at midnight, Jerin decides to raid the kitchen. He meets Ren, who seduces him right there, and then sneaks back to his room... without having eaten anything. And no, Ren doesn't count
  • Military Maverick: General Wellsbury seems to have gained this reputation solely by conscripting The Whistlers, who'd been a family of soldiers blacklisted from service after a mother’s treason, then joined the thieves' guild out of desperation. When caught stealing by Wellsbury, Tea Whistler had the chutzpah to tell her that they'd make excellent spies. They lied, they stole, they ignored orders, and they turned the tides in the War of the False Eldest since their duties were expanded from spying to wreaking general mayhem behind enemy lines. Her memoirs are still easily found 80 years later.
  • Missing Moms: The Whistler mothers are elsewhere for a good chunk of the opening, though they do come back and immediately take charge. Come the move of the action to Mayfair they disappear from the narrative again, only to come roaring back.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Jerin manages to mistake himself for cheating - when he can't remember a certain period of time, he fears that he cheated on his fianceés in that time, as he was there with a woman, and can't recall what, exactly, happened, only that it was a compromising situation. Turns out the mysterious strange woman is, in fact, one of his wives-to-be, and she cheerfully tells him that, if he thinks that was sex, she will have to give him The Talk because they’d have a hard time conceiving otherwise.
  • Mistaken for Dying: When it is announced that Jerin will leave, his youngest sister says, she doesn't want him to go away "just like papa did" ... and is explained that her father died, while Jerin could eventually come back for a visit once he's married.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: Played With — Odelia takes Jerin to play with her younger sisters, the youngest of whom are toddlers, while the eldest is primary school age. She leaves him alone with them, and no one even thinks that this could be, in any way, inappropriate. However, when Lylia later tells Ren that "Jerin can do magic", she is a bit worried for a moment. As she seduced Jerin earlier, and can think of only one magic-like thing he can do ... she hopes he didn't do "that" in front of the children. Turns out Jerin can do completely innocent magic tricks of the "make a coin appear out of thin air" kind.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: Invoked and Jerin manages to be mistaken for a whore ( for a short period of time, but the disguise, consisting of makeup and a feather boa, doesn't fool the villains.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Ren, after seducing the Whistler family's son, Jerin, on the kitchen floor, fears the Whistlers will lure her into a trap. They don't — in fact, the family doesn't know about it, yet. Ren is not a villain but sometimes acts like a jerk, as the spoilered incident proves.
  • Modesty Towel: Jerin averts this - he puts on a "bathing gown" in order to be somewhat more clothed in case he meets one of the female guests of the house. He does.
  • Moral Myopia: Lampshaded when Ren admits that it is hypocrisy to tell Jerin he is allowed to reject women, after having seduced him against his (rational) wishes at the beginning of the novel. And the whole Whistler clan, whose grandfather was kidnapped by their grandmothers, but who, of course, would be furious if someone kidnapped their brothers.
  • Motherhood Is Superior: Inverted, as it is men's responsibility to care for the children... if there is a man in the family. Also, it is expected of teenage brothers to care for their baby sisters, and the failure to do so is noticed by potential wives: when Balin Brindle leaves it to his frail old father to care for the babies, Summer Whistler does not approve. She understandably wants to marry a man who is good with children.
  • Moving the Goalposts: In a non-villainous example. Ren wants to get her mother to withdraw her Parental Marriage Veto, and accuses her of this trope after she convinced all her present adult sisters to marry Jerin, and her mother still denies consent on the grounds that the absent Halley — who may or may not be still alive — hasn't been asked.
  • Mundane Luxury: Jerin revels in simply getting to sit down and eat a meal without having to prepare it himself first.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: This trope has an interesting variation here where Keifer Porter was involved in a plan to kill (some of) his wives. It worked, but he was Too Dumb to Live and didn't get to safety before the bomb went off.]]
  • My Biological Clock Is Ticking: Sort of. Eldest Whistler, twenty-eight years old, would like to have one child before menopause. Having seen her mothers pregnant she's aware that sometimes they seem miserable, other times they almost glow, and she wants to experience it once. After that, she laughingly tells Jerin, she'll be happy to let her sisters bear the children.
  • My Boy Is Not A Slut: Chastity and purity are among the virtues that are mentioned to make Jerin look like a good potential husband. While Women's sleeping around is also frowned upon in this setting, due to the inversion of STD Immunity, it isn't seen as much of a problem, at least if their sleeping around is with other women.
  • My Brother Is Off Limits: For poor families swapping brothers is one of the only ways they can guarantee a husband, for better-off ones the titular Brothers Price is an important injection of capital. For even higher ones it's an important political marriage alliance. Princess Ren severely damages her friendship with Eldest Whistler when she seduces her younger brother. It gets better when Ren makes it clear that she fully intends to marry him, as soon as she gets rid of a Parental Marriage Veto.
  • My Rule-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours: A minor plot point has the princesses have to decide who gets to inherit the Wakecliffe Estate, specifically a strategically important piece of land, and use their rule-fu to make a legal decision that gives that piece of land to the crown. (They're benevolent rulers who adhere to their own rules). The three families who brought the case to court also try to invoke the trope to their personal advantage, and succeed to some degree, as the princesses only want the piece of land mentioned above, they don't care about the money, and manors, and other stuff.
  • My Secret Pregnancy: Culturally enforced, people don't even talk much about late-term pregnancies and try to hide early ones out of superstitious fear of something going wrong with it. After her brother and several other family members died in an explosion at a theater, a grieving Kij Porter visited a crib and got with child, but it turns out she made the story about the crib up; she had in fact been impregnated by her brother and hid it until she had an excuse not to; because of her noble birth, it would have taken a lot to get her to go to a crib. The fear of sexually transmitted diseases, even after she'd proven clean, has sunk a few marriage alliances for her family.
  • Mysterious Backer: Cira, she seems to be one of the villains, then she announces her intent to help Jerin, and indeed does so.
  • Mysterious Stranger: Cira when she first turns up. The spoilered name is not her real name.
  • The Namesake: The title seems metaphorical, after all, the "price" paid for something often is. However, it turns out that it is meant quite literally, it's the price to be paid to a man's sisters when he marries. It also appears as physical coins of glorious glittering gold.
  • Names to Trust Immediately: One of Jerin's sisters seems to be named "Bunny". Which is nice for a sweet-tempered toddler, but one hopes it is just a nickname, considering how it would look if a grown woman had that name. Judging from the other members of the Whistler clan, she might grow up to become a Vorpal Bunny, albeit a lawful, good-aligned one.
  • Necessarily Evil: What the Cribs obviously represent. Distribution of husbands isn't fair and neither are a lot of things in our world. So families and individuals that can't afford a brother's price use the Cribs to get pregnant. While conditions are said to vary, any man in there is undoubtedly a Sex Slave, used almost every night, having to take numerous drugs to ensure they're able to perform and exposed to numerous STDs.
  • Neutral Female: Gender Inverted for the whole society. A good historical example is Jerin's grandfather Alannon, who was kidnapped by Jerin's grandmothers, out of a castle under siege. Apparently, he was just taking a bath when the spies found him, and decided to take him with them. It's encouraged by society, as men are seen as too valuable to harm and "husband raids" were only outlawed in the last generation. Jerin averts this trope, as he has his own ideas about whom he wants to marry, and it just so happens that the women who kidnap him are less attractive than the set of sisters he is engaged to marry. (Alannon was apparently not engaged, and as his kidnappers did everything to make him happy, and his family had been executed, anyway, he decided to just go with it.)
  • Never Be Hurt Again: After her abusive husband Keifer Porter died, Trini does not want to marry again, as a new husband could be just the same. (While he was bad for the whole family, he raped and tortured only Trini, and was more subtle with the others) This causes problems because it prevents her sisters from marrying, a condition ironically imposed by the Queen Mother to prevent the very thing that happened with Keifer and Trini. She is also protective of people who are in danger of facing the same fate she did - when Trini is told that the Porters intend to make an offer for Jerin, she neglects her own safety to help. By agreeing to marry Jerin herself.
  • Never Learned to Read: Literacy is not ubiquitous in Queensland, justified given it's Fantasy Americana set around 1860ish, which didn't have universal literacy either. The entire Whistler clan being literate is a bit unusual when you include the males, but their grandfather had high standards.
  • Never My Fault: When confronted by Jerin and Cira at the end of the book, Kij claims that all of her own and her family's misdeeds - which at the latest count include treason, murder and attempted murder (including members of her own family), piracy, kidnapping, and smuggling - are actually the fault of the royal family, because the Porters lost money and property in the War of the False Eldest.
  • Never Say "Die": Played With then Subverted. When she hears that her big brother is going to leave the family to be married, little Bunny Whistler takes it in the worst possible way.
    Bunny: I don't want Jerin to go away like Papa did!
    Jerin: Papa died, honey. I'm not going to die. I'm just going to live at someone else's house.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain:
    • Ren and Halley survive the attack in the theater basically thanks to Keifer being an ass and sending Ren home. Better yet, this basically foils the attackers' plan of weakening the royal family by ultimately leaving the two most competent princesses (after their older sisters were implied cases of Love Makes You Dumb) as the eldest. Better yet, Keifer was actually part of the enemies' party and was supposed to survive. His stupidity killed him, the Porters' Eldest, the princesses who sympathized with the Porters, and ultimately his family's influence at the court. What was left were the middle princesses, who remembered him and the rest of the Porters unfavorably and had learned their lesson how to and how not to choose and treat a husband, in charge now. Really, good job.
    • Trini is very, very reluctant to get married again and actively avoids both Jerin and her other sisters to the best of her ability. When Ren comes to her with legitimate arguments in favor, nothing at all seems to sway her until Ren offhandedly mentions the Porters have offered for Jerin. Immediately, Trini stops arguing and agrees with the marriage on the spot at least partly to spite the Porters. Had they not offered for Jerin, there was a good chance that Trini would've stayed against the marriage long enough to prevent it through sheer stubbornness. Making this even more entertaining, neither the villains nor Ren ever seem to notice how they practically handed Ren Trini's vote on a silver platter.
  • Non-Action Guy: This is the assumed cultural role of all men, given the aforementioned gender imbalance. Some of them actively chafe at it like Cullen, who is thrilled at the chance of learning horse riding for marrying into the Whistlers. Jerin actually knowing how to do this is seen as foolish given his position as an asset for the family.
  • No Name Given: The late father of the princesses presumably had a name, but we never hear it. His daughters refer to him as "Papa" (apparently the customary term for one's father in this society, since Jerin's cousin also uses it referring to his own).
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. When the body of a man is found fresh in a shallow grave, his penis is bloody. An investigator believes he was raped by his murderers, and one or more was a virgin or menstruating.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Ordinary English is bad enough if you're not a native speaker, but with names like Kij, it really becomes difficult. And is Rensellaer pronounced with an umlaut for the ae, or is it pronounced Rennsell-a-er? And one really hopes that poor Cullen is not pronounced like the vampire family of the same name. There's also the question whether Tullen rhymes with Cullen, or not. It should, but if it's English, that's not a given.
  • Nobility Marries Money:
    • Cullen's mothers had a brother who was married off for money and status to the princesses' mothers — and ended up killed as part of a political game, which Cullen's mothers have regretted since, one of them calling their late brother a sacrificial lamb. The Whistlers couldn't pay the price that Cullen normally would have gotten, but Cullen's eldest sister agrees to the price anyway, stating that she wants Cullen to be happy and doesn't want to bear the same regrets their mothers do.
    • Played Straight with the marriage offer of the Porters, who are nobility, but never married a royal prince, which they seek to amend by marrying a descendant of Prince Alannon, even though he may be poorer than they are. It's also part of their political scheming. They already placed themselves in the line of succession of the monarchy and the wealth and titles that come with it by having their brother marry the Princesses, but marrying a descendant of a former prince would make their claim on the monarchy twofold if something were to happen to the Princesses — a tragedy they just so happen to be planning.
  • Nocturnal Emission: Jerin washes the blankets "soiled by dreams" of a woman. It's a good thing for him he does the whole laundry, so there's no embarrassment.
  • Noodle Incident: It’s never stated exactly what the Whistlers’ great grandmother Elder did that got their grandmothers booted from the army and having to join the thieves guild out of necessity other than it was treason.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Eldie Porter's parents — not that that makes it okay in-universe, just not so bad as it might have been. And they're still blood, just not siblings; they're what we would consider cousins.
  • Nuclear Family: Here a nuclear family is made of a group of sisters, their husband, and their children. Thirty children are not uncommon, but considered irresponsible if there's only one boy. Overlaps with The Clan, as the children are technically half sisters, half cousins - but as far as the protagonists are concerned, they're sisters.
  • Nurture over Nature: little Neddie is adopted by the Whistlers at about five years old, and, despite remembering her birth parents, she apparently never asks about them, but makes an effort to fit into the new family and is seen happily running around with her new adopted siblings. She is said to be a lot happier with their adoptive family than she ever was with her birth family. It is implied that her birth family neglected her.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Keifer, while genuinely stupid, used to act childish and ostensibly hysterical to manipulate his wives and achieve his own ends.
    • Jerin gets in on the act later.
  • Oblivious Adoption: This is invoked with Neddie at the end of the novel. She is actually the child of a family executed for treason, and a toddler at the time she is adopted. The Whistlers do everything to help her fit in, from dyeing her hair to giving her the same tattoos her "sisters" have. They seem to hope that she will forget about her birth family, and not want revenge once they tell her the truth when she comes of age. Wanting to keep the adoption under wraps is justified by the cultural norms of the setting — the major religion frowns on adoption. The main character speculates that this is because the skewed birthrate makes boys so much more valuable than girls, and abandonment of excessive female children might be more prevalent if other families could be convinced to take them in. An oblivious adoption is the only option to avoid scorn.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Princess Ren is friends with one of her sisters-in-law, Kij Porter, but doesn't like her snobbish mothers-in-law. As her husband (who was a jerk) is dead, and there were never any children, Ren hopes that she won't have much to do with the Porters in the future, when she and her sisters have remarried. (As all sisters in a family marry one husband, and are considered mothers of all the children of that marriage, there's usually lots of mothers-in-law.) Keifer Porter, the princesses' late husband, poisoned their father, making him the worst son-in-law ever.
  • Old Woman Marrying A Child: Grooms are 16, the older brides are... well, not old, because they have to get there before menopause, but much more adult. A one point the "not young anymore" (by Ren's words) Kij Porter, presumably in her late 30s, makes advances to a not-quite-yet-16 Jerin. He's creeped, though probably more because he's scared of her as a person. Cullen Moorland on the other hand clearly welcomes Eldest Whistler's advances and she's 28 to his 16.
  • One-Gender School: All schools are this by default. When Jerin complains that he was never allowed to go to school, Miss Skinner her teacher explains that she wouldn't have liked the responsibility to keep the girls away from him.
  • The One Guy: Most men can expect to be the only brother in their family. Jerin, who is lucky enough to have brothers, becomes the only guy when he is invited to Mayfair for a season along with some of his sisters. He meets Cullen, who is the only guy in the Moorland family and is excited about getting to talk to another male.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Because the firstborn daughter of any family is given the title/name "Eldest", there are a lot of Eldests around. However, non-family members usually call the Eldest of some other family by her last name. Technically there are three Eldest Whistlers shown, but Jerin only calls one of them by that name - the others he calls Mother Eldest and Cousin Eldest.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: heavily implied as Jerin's grandmothers stumbled upon their later husband while he was taking a bath... in a place they were raiding. They decided to steal him, too.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Ten of the twenty princesses of the realm were killed in an explosion at an Opera. After their own father was poisoned prior to said explosion. The queens have to endure losing their husband and half of their daughters. Due to Polyamory, it is unclear who lost a daughter and who (technically) a niece, but as their society doesn't differentiate between the two, their feelings likely don't, either.
  • Parent–Child Incest: Suspected to occur among the Brindles. We would think of it more as "Aunt-Nephew Incest", but it's considered parent-child in this world. People consider it in the first place because of the general paucity of men and the high value of boy children, but there's a great taboo against it.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Jerin wishes this trope was in effect but the power devolves to Eldest Whistler on their trip to Mayfair. This is okay but it doesn't protect him from the attentions of the Porters.
  • Perfect Health: Increases a man's value, Jerin has it but a few other men seen don't.
  • Personal Effects Reveal: When Jerin is moved into the palace husband quarters, he finds evidence that predecessor Keifer killed his father-in-law, father of the princesses.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Rare male version. Judging from the description male Seasonal ballroom costume recalls David Bowie's costumes in Labyrinth with a codpiece further emphasizing The Area. Jerin's shirt has little bells sewn onto the sleeves, and he complains that he feels like his culture's equivalent of a Christmas tree.
    • Everyone at the ball at the royal palace seems to wear some variant of this.
  • Plenty of Blondes: In what may be an example of heredity, families more often than not all share the same hair color. This leads to the royal family being all red-haired, and some noble family being all blondes. With family sizes of up to fifty people or so, that is lots of red-haired and blonde people for a Fantasy Americana setting. Though the royal family might have achieved the red hair by inbreeding: They don't marry cousins, but they also don't marry commoners, leading to a very small pool of marriageable noblemen for the princesses to choose from.
  • Plot Armor: Lampshaded, Ren remarks that Odelia seems to have this. She gets beat over the head with an iron rod, very nearly killed and left for dead, then rescued by the grandchildren of knights and their beautiful brother, and Ren says that's about typical for Odelia's luck.
  • Polyamory: The settings solution for 5-10 girls to 1 boy split is for boys to marry all sisters in a family. Jerin, of course, goes on to marry all of the princesses of the realm.
  • Posthumous Character:
    • Keifer Porter may have been dead for six years, but damned if his presence isn't still felt and his actions aren't still causing problems.
    • On the positive side, there is Jerin's grandfather, who taught him a lot, and also was a prince, which becomes important in the plot, and the grandmothers, thanks to whom Jerin has many of the abilities of a trained spy.
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: When Cira surprise kisses him, Jerin is pretty much flabbergasted and doesn't know what to say or think.
  • Practically Different Generations: Thanks to the number of sisters who can be married to the same man, it's common for the youngest sister to still be children, if not yet to be born, by the time the oldest are old enough to marry.
  • Practice Kiss: Cullen and Lylia have tried it, but since they're cousins who were raised together, Cullen cheerfully admits that it was like kissing a sister.
  • Precision F-Strike: Done well and with aplomb
    Ren: Keifer was a whoring, murdering slut! After murdering my father, he fucked women in our wedding bed!
  • Private Tutor: The schoolteacher of Jerin's sisters occasionally came to the family's house to act like this for Jerin and his younger brother, who would be in danger of kidnapping outside the house. The Princesses also had dedicated tutors as well and worked with things like microscopes which are cutting edge science for them.
  • Promotion to Parent: When his father dies, Jerin steps into the child-nurturing and house-tending role, and does well at it, since he'd been helping and learning from his father all along. The downside is that when they hear he's leaving to be married, his youngest sisters react as if losing another father.
  • Property of Love In this setting, men are technically the property of their birth family, and later the property of their wives. While this doesn't come up much in the narrative — men are never treated like property — it is played for drama, as Jerin is aware that if his sisters committed a crime and were punished for it, he would be part of the property that would be taken away from them. Also, Jerin's grandmothers abducted his grandfather, who was a prince, from a castle under siege, and were able to legally marry him and have his ancestry handwaved as he was considered war loot. The marriage, apparently, was a very happy one, so this is a straight example.
  • Proper Men can Cook: Given the Inversion of gender roles cookery seen as a very good skill for a man, especially a future husband, to have. However, this is not Real Men Cook as men are expected to occupy the domestic sphere exclusively with no formal profession.
    • Jerin, staying out of the kitchen to avoid tempting visiting women, finds that one of his sisters has prepared only potatoes for the visiting Queen's Justice's dinner and has to recruit siblings to help him make it into a full meal.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Keifer had the petulance and sense of entitlement of a spoiled child, throwing tantrums to get his wives to do his bidding and blaming them for the abuse he inflicted on them.
  • Pun: When discussing whores - women who "service" women for money - Jerin naively says they lack certain vital equipment, and Cira tells him they wear ivory prosthetics referred to as bones.
  • Questionable Consent: Jerin and Ren when Ren seduces him. He stresses that he really really wanted it, was enthusiastic when he realized that otherwise his only intimacy might be with the Brindles, and was quick to protest that Ren stopped when he said no after Eldest Whistler called it rape... but before he gave in he was babbling uncomfortably and looking for excuses to leave while she touched him. Basically his heart was saying "Yes, yes, yes" and his mind was saying "No, no, no" fatally complicating the issue of consent.
  • Quitting to Get Married: Jerin meets his old teacher, Miss Skinner, on a ship. She is getting married, and quitting her job. Played with in that she doesn't have to quit, and she doesn't even know the man she's going to marry - it's just that her sisters and she had finally saved enough money to be able to afford a husband.
  • Raised by Dudes: Men are seen as, and act as, the more nurturing sex; they are expected to be the primary childrearers. Due to the scarcity of males, however, some families have no resident "father." Children of such households would necessarily be raised by the less-nurturing gender - that is, women - and might be expected to lack some of the finer social skills of their "properly" reared counterparts. Cullen was one of these.
  • Red Right Hand: Played with. The Porter-children born after Eldest and Kij carry a recessive gene displaying itself by a person having eleven toes. Eldest is dead and her character is not known, and Kij is the White Sheep of the family. It's unknown if Keifer had it, but his and Kij's daughter, Eldie, does, which clues in Ren because it would be unlikely that a random man from the cribs would also have this specific gene. This revelation serves as a sign of villainy not for her, but for her mother.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The mother Whistlers and the Eldest sister are this. Naturally, they are away, selling horses in a neighboring city and visiting relatives, respectively, when the plot needs to get going. Also, Ren, who despite her reasonableness thinks that she can finish her important business in peace before talking to Jerin as he requested per messenger. Well, she is wrong, and later has a lot of guilt about this.
  • Romance Cover Scene: Got stuck with one of these. It is a lie. Jerin is depicted on the cover with a woman in his arms. While he does carry a woman in the novel, he throws her over his shoulder, and it isn't a romantic scene, he is carrying her because she's unconscious due to a head wound. He does get into a relationship with her much, much later. Well, at least he is allowed to wear a shirt, and the woman is rather faithfully depicted as wearing trousers instead of a flowing dress.
  • Romance Novel: Jerin mentions the adventure novels his sisters read, which always involved secret passages into the men's quarters. The daring heroines used them to save their true loves from heartless mothers, cruel sisters, abusive wives, and vile kidnappers.
  • Romancing the Widow: Jerin with the princesses. Since the former husband was a jerk, the widow status is not much dwelled on, though—it is only important insofar as Trini does not really want to remarry, for fear she could get such a jerk again.
  • Royal Blood: The fact that Jerin's grandfather was a kidnapped prince makes him a Suddenly Suitable Suitor for the current princesses, since royals can't marry commoners. What it doesn't do is make him eligible to rule in any way. Men in this setting just don't, nor does he have any desire to. However, it does mean that a noble family could kidnap and marry him, making those sisters eligible.
    • Theoretically true of Jerin's cousin Dail too, but presumably he's not quite of marriageable age yet, or the conspirators don't know about him.
  • Royal Harem: Played With, while men marry all the sisters in the family, (the other type of harem) the men's quarters are the most heavily guarded part of the palace, into which the heroines of adventure novels sneak to rescue their beloved from his abusive wives, or such.
  • Royal Inbreeding: Averted: one of the princesses says she wouldn't mind marrying her cousin if she absolutely must marry someone, but her sister points out that he is too close in blood (while admitting he'd otherwise be a good choice). The Whistlers and the royal family are third cousins but this doesn't typically count in most circles.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Princesses seem to be very busy young ladies. All the adult sisters have offices where they seem to spend a good deal of time. One of their jobs is acting as judges in court cases. The plot kicks off in the first place because a pair help part of the armed forces track down some stolen experimental cannons. Subverted with the Queens who are largely retired, as per tradition.
  • Ruler Protagonist: Princess Rennsellaer is a major viewpoint character and takes an active role in governing the country, as the Queens are retiring and passing power on to the Princesses. The antagonists are conspirators against the crown.
  • Ruling Family Massacre: Decades ago the royal family split up, and the husband of the older sisters was infertile, so the younger sisters demanded that their children become heirs to the throne. This caused a civil war, after which the losing half was put to death. All of them. Except Prince Alannon, who didn't want to be a backup prince and chose to stay hidden. The main plot of the novel is some villains' attempt to overthrow the royal family by killing them all and using what weak claim to the throne a marriage to Alannon's grandson Jerin and being the royal family’s former sisters-in-law can supplant the existing royalty.
  • The Runt at the End: Discussed as something that happens to youngest siblings, and mentioned as the reason why it is preferable to time pregnancies carefully, with at least a year in between, to avoid it.
    S-T 
  • STD Immunity: So thoroughly Averted that it has a major cultural impact. Venereal disease is widely and intensely feared, thus the focus on keeping men virgins until marriage.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Mentioned. The family is bound by law to provide hospitality to the injured soldier, and Ren's words after she seduced Jerin imply that she knows this to be a breach of the rules of hospitality.
  • Scar Survey: Gender-reversed example, with Cira and Jerin, when they talk about the scar on her face, which is nothing compared to how her back looks. They didn't sleep with each other beforehand, but she did try to seduce him, and tries a second time after revealing her scars.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: The Porters had some mothers who were rather scatterbrained, and described as "ancient". They died in an explosion, caused by a bomb the Porter family had planted there. The younger ones wanted to get rid of the scatterbrained seniors who they feared would spill their murderous secrets.
  • Schoolmarm: Miss Skinner, a very typical schoolmarm, who taught Jerin's sisters, and occasionally came to the Whistler farm to give lessons to Jerin and his younger brothers. She's very prim and proper, telling Jerin to wear his veil when she meets him on a ship, and not to talk to strange women. (Jerin protests that she's not a stranger, she's his dear old teacher). She is also unmarried, but not due to any restrictions, it's just very hard to find a husband. When she meets Jerin, she tells him that she's going home to get married, having amassed enough wealth to be able to afford a husband - her motivation to become a teacher in the first place. To complete the stereotype, Jerin recalls having had a crush on her when he was younger.
  • Secret Art: The so-called "Paths of Pleasure" is treated as this. Jerin is asked whether his grandfather passed it on to him. It is, essentially, the art of keeping all wives happy in a polygynous marriage. Jerin is very embarrassed when asked about it— he doesn't think it should be discussed in public.
  • Secretly Wealthy: Cira, when Jerin meets her he intuits that she's richer than she seems. His family has worked as spies for some generations, and kept up the traditions, so he knows what to look for.
  • Secret Test of Character: The adult princesses save one have agreed on their communal husband and now have to convince the sister who doesn't want to marry anyone. For this purpose, they conspire to get the young man in the playroom with their kid sisters, and have the reluctant sister walk by, so that she can witness how kind and patient he is with the kids. While she is impressed, she isn't convinced, as, to her, the secret test is not secret enough—he could be faking it in order to get to marry them.
  • Seduction-Proof Marriage: Doubly Subverted with Jerin. As is the custom of his people he marries a group of sisters, to whom he is faithful for ever after the engagement, even though a mysterious woman tries to seduce him. She turns out to be one of his wives.
  • Sent Into Hiding: Alannon was kept secret by the Whistler grandmothers... he was a prince, although not a Hidden Backup Prince (he was not heir to the throne), and their kidnapping him from a palace under siege was not entirely legal. They were determined to keep him, even though the royal family (the one that had wiped out his branch of the family) searched for him for a long time.
  • Sexless Marriage: A man marries all the sisters of a family, but as the younger wives may not yet be interested in men, they can have a sexless marriage with him until they come of age. Or forever, considering that some wives may still be toddlers when the wedding takes place. With between ten and thirty women sharing one husband, it is presumably no problem if one or two sisters want to be celibate.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Used in a rather serious situation, Cira insists that Jerin is not her boyfriend, and she is not interested in him at all. This is important, because the villains want to make a show of raping Jerin, with her Forced to Watch. She takes the fun out of it by claiming she's a lesbian. She's actually bi and rather attracted to Jerin, who, unbeknownst to him, is engaged to marry her.
  • Shell Game: Jerin uses this as a teaching tool with the youngest princesses, explaining to them why they need to know how to spot when someone's not being honest with them.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Cullen Moorland is exceptionally sheltered even by Queensland standards and cannot wait to cook, clean and take care of his home and wives like other men.
  • Shipper on Deck: Towards the end of the novel Cullen is pushing for his sisters to marry Jerin's cousin Dail. Apparently, the idea is being taken seriously by both families.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: The royal princesses all fit this trope.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Prince Allanon is a rare male example. He was a beautiful, dignified, quietly regal man who had his wives twisting themselves into pretzels to please him. And he saw to it his sons and grandsons were raised to be the same, as his grandson Jerin demonstrates.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: More like Multiple Sisters Seek Good Man. Either way, having a caring nature and being good with children are seen as highly desirable traits in a prospective husband. Summer Whistler remarks that the boy her sister Corelle has a crush on "has a temper with the babies", which she dislikes. Jerin's own skill in dealing with his younger sisters is a plus in the eyes of his suitors.
  • Sink The Life Boats: Incorporates the killing-the-defenseless aspect of Leave No Survivors; families that have committed treason are executed for it, down to the youngest child. It happened years ago after the War of the False Eldest. Recalling that those children would have been her mothers if the family hadn't split, Ren is affected by the thought, though her sister Halley is coolly pragmatic about it.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Jerin's sister Heria, having forgotten the password, confirms her identity by uttering swearwords that would have "made her grandfather blush and her grandmothers proud". Apparently, her grandmothers were even worse.
  • Slut-Shaming: This still exists in a matriarchy, at least in some aspects; there is gossip about a man who was caught with his wives' servant after the engagement and before the wedding, and promptly returned to his family, as "damaged goods". Apparently, he is still able to show his face in public, but it is a stain on his reputation, especially as there is no cure for STDs. On the other hand, this trope is averted in that theoretical knowledge about sex is considered to make a man more desirable. The same applies to clothes - the codpiece is very much in fashion.
  • Smoking Is Glamorous: The Princess Lylia smuggles fine cigars, wine, and pornography to her favorite cousin Cullen, who happily decides to share all of the above to Jerin, who's a bit stunned by all the luxuries of palace living.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Gender Inverted like many such tropes, because males are unlikely to come to full term. A boy can feel lucky if his father is still around when he reaches adulthood, and a man will be considered handsome if he has both eyes and all of his teeth. Families consist of a group of sisters, the husband they married, and children. Children within a family can have up to thirty girls with only one boy. A family with four boys and twenty-eight girls is considered uncommonly lucky. It is mentioned that, at social meetings, men gather together for the rare opportunity to talk to someone of their own gender who isn't their father or a rare brother.
  • The Sociopath: Keifer Porter. Very vain, charming if he wanted to be, good at manipulating people, even though he was rather stupid otherwise, and ready to do horrible things with little or no provocation. He is also implied to have been easily bored. While he did sleep with his sister, he seems to have been unable to form emotional relationships, seeing as his wives adored him and did everything to keep him happy, and it didn't stop him from torturing their little sister. And killing her father, and taking part in a conspiracy to kill them.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Jerin's father died within a year of the book's start. Mother Elder was with him the night before he catastrophically slipped and fell, and initially thought she wasn't pregnant but going through menopause. Also implied to be the case with Eldie Porter. The official reason of her existence is that Kij went to a crib to cope with Keifer's death. To be born in the right timeframe to make this believable, she must have been conceived quite a short time before the theater exploded.
    • Cullen was this, his father having died before he was born.
  • Standard Hero Reward: Initially appears this way. Jerin and his family saved the Princess Odelia, and the end of the book has him marrying the princesses. Really it's more complex than that; the Princess Ren persuaded her Mother Elder to sponsor the Whistlers to come to the royal court, and a lot of time and effort is spent trying to bring Jerin's sisters and Ren's family to agree to the marriage.
  • Not So Standard Royal Court: Queensland has the royal family, royal retainers, royal guard, and scheming nobles of the Standard Royal Court but with a twist; all these roles from Queens down are played by cadres of up to twenty sisters.
  • The Stool Pigeon: when Corelle is found out to have had sex with Balin Brindle, she points at Jerin and tells Eldest that Jerin was seduced by Ren. It doesn't work the way she wants it to, though.
  • Straight for the Commander: The Whistlers did this as a matter of course during the Civil War given the confusion it'd throw all the subordinates into. Corelle learned her lessons well and shot the red-hooded one that the criminals were deferring to. It works.
  • Succession Crisis: The so-called "War of the False Eldest" was caused by a conflict over whether the daughters of the younger sisters should inherit the throne, as the shared husband of the older sisters was infertile, and hadn't fathered any heirs. Princess Ren and her sisters know about the war, and are very aware of their own responsibility to marry well (that is, a fertile man) and have daughters, to avoid a second succession crisis, the effects of the first are still felt after two generations.
  • Take a Third Option: Comes into play at the end of the book. The method for preventing a Cycle of Revenge triggered by executing traitor parents while leaving their children alive is to... execute the children too. Ren finds this monstrous and distressing, but she does have to admit that no one will take in little Eldie Porter, and if she does, the child will surely resent Ren's little sisters and future children and probably try to take revenge on them. And a five-year-old will not fare well if turned out on the streets. Fortunately, the Whistlers are nearby and listening; their great-grandmothers were executed for treason but, because the family was so mixed and not cohesive, not all of their grandmothers were killed, and the family went on to serve the crowns without resentment. They agree to take Eldie in and raise her as their own, citing that one more girl amongst twenty-eight is unlikely to stand out.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: How Ren's father was killed—it was Keifer's doing, of course.
  • Technical Virgin: Jerin after being seduced by Ren. He has angst over it, worrying if it means his mouth isn't virgin now, or if it's a whole package deal.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Men are married and expected to start servicing their wives at sixteen. But only a generation ago, that age was only thirteen, and the Moorlands were fathered by a boy who was married off at that age. Cullen Moorland expresses relief that the age of marriage is higher now. It is not mentioned what the age is for girls, but one family tries to get Eldest Whistler to give them Jerin for a night, in exchange for some money, so that he can father a baby with their youngest sister, who is just sixteen. The problem is not so much avoiding teen pregnancies as getting pregnant before one hits menopause. Some, if not most, of these marriages can include wives that aren't born yet; the husband would naturally have to wait a while if they wish to include everyone.)
  • Tender Tears: Jerin cries several times over the course of the book.
  • Terrified of Germs: Well, of sexually transmitted diseases. Since a man marries every sister in a family and is expected to "service" any of them who are of age, a single member of that group with an STD will pass it on to all of them, which in several cases has led to that family dying out. Fear of venereal disease has really affected the culture.
  • Terrifying Rescuer: While on the hunt for the lost cannons Ren initially thinks Eldest Whistler's flying tackle is an attack on her (she thinks Eldest is aware of just how close Ren and Eldest's unmarried brother Jerin had gotten the night before, and in this society, would react violently to this event). Turns out Eldest was knocking Ren clear of a trap that would have killed her.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Inverted. As men, Jerin Whistler and Cullen Moorland are expected to have an interest in fashions, textiles, embroidery, and so on, but while they're both proficient at these things, neither has a love of it. Some female characters - tailors - have an interest, but others don't think about it at all.
  • Theiss Titillation Theory: Jerin somehow manages to convince himself that his nightshirt, which just about reaches his knees and is very thin, is almost as decent as a walking robe. Later on, after getting dressed up for the Mayfair ball, he is very aware that the tight trousers with a codpiece he is expected to wear are a lot more titillating than naked legs. Even if it doesn't leave much to the imagination.
  • Theme Naming: Of a sort. The firstborn female of any family is always named Eldest. The Whistlers have the Mother Elder, the oldest of the mothers, and Eldest Whistler, the eldest of their daughters. A batch of experimental prototype cannons which were stolen before the book starts, which have a major subplot devoted to them, are called the Prophets and have names derived from the in-universe mythology: Joan, Bonnye, Anna, Judith, Gregor, Larisa, Nane, and Ami.
  • Thicker Than Water: The expected societal norm. (Which didn't stop the royal family from executing their own in the eponymous Cousin war, but royalty is always a special case) Corelle Whistler constantly tells her brother Jerin that his clothes are not nice enough, his accent is too posh, and his hands are too rough, but if he's under attack from outsiders, she'll come to his rescue instantly. His eldest sister tells him at one point that he's a Whistler, and need not be worried about anything, because his family will always be there for him.
  • Thieves' Guild: Official name: Sisterhood of the Night. The Whistlers bullied the Sisterhood into training them to be a whole team of thieves decades ago as they rebuilt themselves from a fall from grace, it was successful. Captain Tern is very surprised to hear the 'bullied' part, but it's apparently possible.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Men are extremely rare and protected in this world, so when some of the heroes find one who was killed, the ones who never knew their fathers are disgusted, but the ones who did have loving fathers are horrified, furious, even panic-stricken. Most didn't know the man in question, but this is the crime that really drives them to despise those responsible.
    "What kind of animals could do this?"
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: While his sisters and wives kill when necessary, they never do it if Jerin is present. In one situation, Cira gives one of their enemies Tap on the Head, and reassures Jerin that no, she didn't kill her, and she is extremely sorry that he has to witness this. Later Jerin shoots a woman himself, and is shocked for moments afterward. He did it in defense of his rescuer, Cira, and is extremely upset that he actually killed a human being. While reference to execution as punishment is made, proper court proceedings beforehand are seen as preferable to killing in self-defense whenever possible. And even then, the protagonists don't like the thought of small children being executed for their mothers' crimes (as is the normal course of action, to avoid revenge being taken by the surviving offspring.)
  • Through His Stomach: On their engagement night, i.e. the first time they have sex, Trini who didn't seem to like Jerin much beforehand, brings him a tray of food. Probably she didn't prepare the food herself, but it's the thought that counts.
  • Title Drop: The titular Brother's price is essentially a bride price mainly in the form of a one-time payment.
  • Toilet Humor: Lampshaded with Jerin Whistler and Princess Lylia, in a tasteful and inoffensive way, chatting about the building of indoor privies and the technology involved, as it is relatively new. It is mentioned that Lylia enjoys the "innocent rudeness of the conversation".
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Cullen, despite growing among the noble folk, is rather wild and contemptuous of the rules. He's bored and longs to do more adventurous things, like riding a horse. Jerin in turn, who's grown up in a farm and got to do such "unladylike" thing s in his life, is much more proper and calm.
  • Tongue Trauma: The corpse of Egan Wainwright is discovered. As he is half-naked, they first suspect that he was overdosed with date-rape drugs, but then someone notices a trace of blood coming from his mouth - his tongue has been cut, with the intent to silence him, but so badly that he died from it.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Porters They seem to consider hammering on others' Berserk Buttons to be a hobby, based on such idiocies as not only setting off the princesses by kidnapping their new husband, but also setting off his birth family, who are very loyal to their sisters-in-law and very skilled in combat. Of course, lack of brainpower does seem to run in the family, since their brother, the previous Prince Consort, got himself killed by failing to get clear of a bomb that he knew was going to go off and when in time.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Invoked to explain why boy babies are so often stillborn. It is more likely to be due to environmental issues, but the characters have no idea and thus look for a supernatural explanation.
  • Too Important to Walk: Jerin doesn't walk anywhere in the capital city Mayfair once he's invited to the royal palace. Justified, as a pretty boy like Jerin would certainly attract kidnappers if he walked around in public. (He does walk when he's at home, but there, his sisters know where everyone lives, and everyone knows not to mess with the Whistler clan).
    • It's briefly mentioned that noble husbands often have trouble getting enough exercise because of their sheltered lives, and may gain weight in later life as a result.
  • The Tragic Rose: Thematic version, Ren has a dream in which Trini cuts off the heads of roses that somehow look like another sister, Halley, and bleed. Trini is a rather tragic character, as she still suffers from the trauma inflicted on her by Keifer, and stands in the way of the potential marriage with Jerin, so there's a romantic element there too. Halley is missing and believed dead. Trini often likes to work in the garden and is seen working on the roses for real, too.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The noble house Wakecliff is mentioned in passing as having suffered one, having been wiped out over the winter save for a few women past bearing by a series of what would be serious tragedies in their own rightnote 
  • Trend Aesop: While Jerin is too sensible to follow any trends Corelle insists he needs to wear tight trousers with a codpiece, as that's the latest fashion. She gets her wish when Jerin is sponsored to go to the royal ball for a season, along with some of his sisters. All the fashionable clothes do is attract attention that Jerin would rather not have. The Tailor family, who make his and his sisters' clothes for the ball, tell them that there's a new fad every two weeks or so at court. The Whistlers think it is pretty silly, and immediately make plans to sell their new clothes before they return home, as what is fashionable at court is unwearable elsewhere, the textile used would be ruined by rain.
  • True Companions: Women have the most power when they are formed into families, bands of sisters. Women of lower classes who weren't born to families, or were disowned or left, can band together and legally be considered sisters even if they are completely unrelated. They have to have a clear sense of who leads, though, and not have conflicting interests. The Whistler family started with one such band.
    U-Z 
  • Unable to Support a Wife: Women must have enough money to pay the sisters of one of the rare men the eponymous "Brother's Price", and support the husband. As all the sisters in a family usually share one husband, this is supposedly doable for most, but Jerin's former teacher is still overjoyed that she and her sisters can finally afford a husband.
    • The existence of Cribs implies some sort of cut-off between an upper class able to afford the Brother's price and a lower class that needs them.
  • Underestimating Badassery: The kidnappers who take Jerin are clever enough to search him for hidden weapons, and even find his set of lockpicks. However, they still underestimate him, as he pretends to stumble against them, and steals his stuff back just a moment after they took it.
  • Undressing the Unconscious: Jerin strips off the wet clothes of an unconscious, injured Odelia after he rescues her, picking her out of the river.
  • Undying Loyalty: Despite the fact that he is to be sold by his sisters to another family so they can secure a real estate deal, fated to never call the farm he grew up in a home again and seldom ever see his relatives (and that's if his wives are generous), Jerin is eager to bring them a good brother's price and not once does he complain about his predicamentnote .
  • Unexpected Successor: Ren didn't expect to be the leader of her generation of the royal family—note that she isn't named Eldest.
  • The Unfair Sex: Initially the book seems to suggest that in this world if a marriage is unhappy it's because the wives have all the power over the husbands. Certainly, that's what Jerin is afraid of. Later we see that the husband can foster and spread misery just as well himself, and either may be blamed.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Princess Odelia is saved from certain death by the Whistler family. She promptly plans to fake unconsciousness in order to steal a kiss from the son of the family. As this culture highly values male chastity, this is Serious Business, and other characters point out she's being an ungrateful bastard. Her sister Ren is even worse, justifying herself by saying that it's not like he'll marry into nobility anyway. Jerin enjoys it, but still... bad manners.
    • To a lesser extent, the Whistler grandmothers, who kidnapped Prince Alannon, and married him only after they were knighted for their role in winning the civil war... by the very same government that wondered where Alannon was. (Somewhat justified, as Prince Alannon was part of the losing part of the royal family, and being returned to his relatives might not have been good for his health.)
    • The only actual "bastard" in the book is a very sweet kid.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Default for every person in the setting, who are uniformly described as beautiful or handsome in some way given there being an almost cultural taboo against makeup. Unless you work as a whore, women pretending to be male to meet the demand for non-reproductive sex.
    • During his kidnapping this also applies to Jerin as he's normally made up while he's in the capital while here he's messed around.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Queensland nobility changes outfits three times a day at the very least and purchase an entirely new wardrobe every season (of which there are a lot), much to the confusion of the rural gentry Whistlers, who consider this a waste of money.
  • Unnamed Parent: We only learn the name of Jerin's father - or which of his mothers gave birth to him - because he takes the time to look at his birth certificate. We learn neither about say, Princess Ren.
  • Unorthodox Holstering: Jerin keeps a derringer in one of the pockets of his walking-robe.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Jerin is noted as being skilled at k'lamour (italics in text) or oral sex, from the context. This term is only used once, and it's in a novel with no other constructed language to speak of. As the word is a kind of mangled Latin, or French (amour = love), it could also mean sex in general. Also referred to as "the paths of pleasure". He gets extremely embarrassed talking about it, and admitting his father taught him.
    • Sex between a man and a woman in which the man is willing is often referred to as him "servicing" her. Brothels stocked with men used to get poorer women pregnant are called "cribs".
  • Unwanted Harem: Men who marry do so with all the sisters of a family at once, and these can be large. Jerin's worst nightmare is being married to the Brindle family. There are thirty of them. He'd prefer a smaller family, with only around ten women he'd be expected to "service" and perform childcare and housekeeping for.
  • Vapor Wear: Jerin balks when the royal tailors tell him he must wear his new trousers without underwear; they're deliberately made to show off his, er, assets, and won't fit snugly enough unless he's going commando. He reluctantly gives in, despite saying he both feels and looks naked.
    Eldest Tailor: Women want to see what they're buying. (paraphrased)
  • Villainous Incest: The Brindles, suspected to be incestuous, are seen as thoroughly repulsive to both Jerin and, to his relief, Eldest Whistler, who promises she won't trade him for their brother. Kij and Keifer Porter had sex and even a daughter before Keifer was killed.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: Jerin is disturbed when he witnesses violence. When he has to shoot someone in order to save his rescuer, he's shocked. Other characters, who are mostly women and thus by the standards of the setting raised for this, are a bit more matter-of-fact about the violence they have to do, but it's clear none of them enjoys it.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: Women in this culture are generally expected to engage in whatever level of violence is necessary to protect the men in their family.
    • Kidnapping Jerin turns out to be a Berserk Button for all the adult princesses, who nearly get into a brawl in public over who's going to do what to rescue him. When they do get him back, a combination of this and in-universe laws that all sisters are to be put to death for one's offence means they consider wiping out the entire family involved in Jerin's abduction the only reasonable response to this offense.
  • Virgin in a White Dress: Dru Hightower is a man who is commonly known to be Defiled Forever. He appears in white at a ball, and another character points out that this is likely an attempt to distract from his extramarital indiscretion.
  • Virgin Tension: When Jerin gets kidnapped, it's a big concern - even if they can get him back - that he will be raped first, making him an unsuitable husband. He's not a virgin by this point, but it's thematically similar.
  • Wait Here: Subverted Jerin actually does this when Cira tells him to and does not get in trouble. Of course, he was trained to obey orders by his soldier-descended family, who have a strict chain of command. It also helps that this provides an opportunity to search his rescuer's stuff and get some more information about her.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere:
    • Ren is a bit confused when she wakes up after her first night at the Whistler home, until her brain boots up enough that she remembers why she's where she is.
    • Near the end of the book, Jerin panics a little. His memory of the last night is fuzzy since he almost drowned and got knocked about after going over that Inevitable Waterfall, but soon he recognizes it as his cousin Dail's room.
  • Wedlock Block: Ren runs into problems getting her mothers to approve their marriage to Jerin when her Mother Eldest insists that all the adult princesses agree, in order to avoid some of the problems they had with Keifer. Since Halley's missing and Trini really doesn't want to remarry, it's tough-going for Ren.
  • We Have Forgotten the Phlebotinum: Jerin gets into a situation where he is in danger of being raped, but he didn't think that would happen, so he left his Chastity Dagger behind.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: When Jerin first sees Cira, he's struck first by the scar on her face, then by the fact that it gives her face a degree of character and boldness that it otherwise lacks, and then she lifts his veil:
    Her eyes were green, green and changing as summer wheat, one moment dark as velvet, next light as silk, with long thick dark eyelashes. Gorgeous eyes. How could he have thought her plain with such eyes?
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Balin Brindle; he's only a minor off-screen character, but some readers would like to know whether he really "serviced" his mothers, whether it was consensual and whether he was able to marry well.
    • The reader never does find out who changed the docket for the Wakecliff inheritance case, or what the outcome was.
  • What You Are in the Dark: While Jerin and his family are on a trip to Mayfair for his season, a family that was on its way to the cribs tries to pay his sisters for a night's use of him to impregnate one of their daughters, who's also a virgin and clean. They reason that no one can tell if a man is a virgin, and this would profit everyone. Eldest Whistler is having none of it. Somewhat subverted in that Captain Tern was there, if overlooked, and reported this incident, making the Whistlers look better.
  • Why Won't You Die?: Ren to the villain:
    Don't you know when to die?
  • Wife Husbandry: This aspect of Queensland marital customs is not explored but seeing as a husband is expected to care for little sisters (ie: his future wives) as well as his own children he definitely has an opportunity to mold them into the kind wives he wants them to be.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Ren has a hard time adjusting to being the eldest, and thus the head of her sisters, which is justified because she hadn't been born nor raised to that role.
  • World of Action Girls: By default and necessity. Every Whistler, including the boys, is trained to some degree in fighting. There's a mention once of "teams of little girls" loading and aiming rifles when they think someone's about to raid the house.
  • World of No Grandparents: Grandparents are suspiciously absent. While men seem to die relatively early from diseases, no such explanation is given for the lack of grandmothers - women in general seem to live long enough to become senile. And then there are the Porters, who kill senile family members so that they don't blab secrets. This explains at least the absence of some grandparents The fact that people marry relatively late in life, going by the example of Miss Skinner, could have something to do with it.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Gender flipped with Jerin, Miss Skinner whose families trade was painting portraits of men for betrothal negotiations tells him he's among the most beautiful men alive. This bears out in the book and whenever he's not in a fortified structure he's aware of the constant threat posed by women who might abduct and rape him. When he actually is abducted, it's largely political due to his Royal Blood.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Played Straight with Keifer Porter, who would not only hurt a child, he would rape a child, too. The rape is downplayed in the narrative, as his "servicing" her, as that's how sex is usually described in the setting, and he is married to her. It is averted with Captain Raven Tern, who would, indeed, prefer to not corner the frightened children in the Whistler farm, because she might have to kill one if there'd be a fight. The law of the land is that, for some crimes, the whole family is put to death, including children. None of the heroes like this. In the end, the Whistler family plays a vital part in avoiding the execution of a child.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit:
    • Six years before the start of the story, Keifer Porter gets away with torturing and raping one of his younger wives by convincing Eldest that she "provoked him". Due to Love Makes You Stupid, he actually succeeds with this.
    • A milder example would be Odelia, who is really hurt, but pretends to be unconscious in the hopes that handsome Jerin will enter the room where she lies without a chaperone so that she can steal a kiss. She's not even able to sit up, so her plan likely involved asking Jerin for a kiss.
&&* Wounded Hero, Weaker Helper: After Princess Odelia is hit over the head by bandits and left to die in a creek. She is found by a child, Heria, and is carried to safety by Heria's older brother Jerin, who, while not exactly weak is arguably somewhat less badass than Odelia and her sisters. She does not get to have a Rescue Romance due to being unconscious most of the time. Her sister Ren, however, takes advantage of the situation.
  • You Are in Command Now: Any time the Eldest of the family passes the next oldest daughter is expected to step up.
    • There's a variant where no one dies, but most of the family went away on business, leaving the about 16-year-old Corelle in charge. Corelle then decides to go court the neighbor boy, with three of the other middle sisters in tow. This results in protagonist Jerin having to leave the house with a fourteen-year-old as bodyguard for himself, and even younger sisters to guard the house and younger brothers.
  • You Are Not Alone: Practically a Whistler standard. If you are friends with them, you will never be alone. Eldest Whistler tells Jerin to hold his head high, and fear not, for he is a Whistler, and will always have the protection of his family. As there are more than fifty of them, all trained gunwomen, this is not an empty promise.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: As he leaves the farm he was raised on to go get married, Jerin is well aware that he'll never be able to come back.
    • Doubly Subverted in that he marries women kind enough to let him visit but he knows he will never call the farm home again.
  • You Get What You Pay For: If a woman wants a child they have three options: They can either swap their brother (if they have one) for a husband, they can pay the eponymous "brother's price" to marry another family's brother, or they can go to a so-called crib, which is a bit like a brothel, but more focused on conceiving children. A brother's price can range from two-thousand to five-thousand, depending on whether the man is a commoner or royalty. The men in a crib cost ten per night, but there is the risk of catching an STD, which is incurable. Considering that a woman might have to try for a dozen times or more to conceive a child, and a husband will sleep with all the sisters in a family, the "cheap" option is actually the more expensive one, as explained in the Discworld example of this trope. A family is mentioned where one sister went to a crib before she and her sisters married. The whole family (newborn children included) died from the ensuing STD.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The main villain seems to have this as a matter of policy, regularly killing the river trash they hire for dirty work.
  • You Know Too Much: When Jerin tries to warn the river trash that their employers the Porters will kill them because they will be able to identify those employers, the river trash don't believe him. But he's right.
  • You Killed My Father:
    • Awareness of this trope leads to a very cold practice: if a family has committed treason, when they are executed so are all of their children. Right down to the infants. The only exceptions happen if the family is ruled to not be working together in concert as is proper, like the Whistler family was generations before the book's start. Several characters find this practice monstrous, but others are ruthlessly pragmatic.
      "Their mothers and father had been killed. Do you think you could take that hatred to suckle at your breast?"
      "They had done nothing wrong!"
      "If we had aunts that executed our mothers for fighting over a just cause, would we calmly accept them as our new mothers, or would we rebel?"
      "Merilee was just seven months old."
      "And Livi was seven, and Wren was seventeen. Which ones do you spare? Where do you draw the line?"
      Things come to a head when the mothers of Ren's five-year-old "niece" Eldie Porter are found trying to kill the Queens and Princesses, and it's explicitly stated that if she's allowed to live, this trope will come into play. Fortunately, the Whistlers have a third option in mind.
    • Somewhat more literally, Jerin finds evidence that the same offenders were involved in the death of the princesses' father by poisoning. Keifer, who did the actual killing, was Hoist by His Own Petard because he was Too Dumb to Live. He didn't run in time to escape a bomb his family had planted. That explosion also killed much of the royal family.
  • You Mean "Xmas": Jerin complains that he looks like a "midwinter tree" with all the jewelery he's wearing for the Mayfair ball.
  • You Must Be Cold: Eldest Whistler, upon finding a murdered man she vaguely knew, removes her greatcoat to cover his nakedness. While he's dead and can't feel the cold, it's shameful to leave the poor man like that.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Played With Captain Tern comments that Miss Skinner should have gone to the cribs long ago, as she is viewed as desperate for a husband. However, this is due to My Biological Clock Is Ticking - for some reason the people haven't figured out how to get pregnant without intercourse. Other women are said to "act like a cat in heat", implying that they want to get laid, but that's not considered a good thing; not for young women who still have a chance to marry a husband (who, unlike a crib captive, would be free of STDs and therefore preferable).
  • Your Makeup Is Running: Cira puts lip paint on Jerin to better disguise him as a whore, then they start kissing and she laughingly says she'll have to do it over.


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